It was “perfectly reasonable” for Boris Johnson to attack Sir Keir Starmer over the failure to prosecute Jimmy Savile when he was director of public prosecutions, a minister has told Sky News.

Asked on Trevor Phillips on Sunday about the prime minister‘s use of the discredited claim that the Labour leader was responsible for the failure to bring Savile to justice, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng defended Mr Johnson.

Sir Keir accused Mr Johnson of using the “conspiracy theories of violent fascists” to score political points, having described it as a “ridiculous slur peddled by right-wing trolls” during an interview with Sky News earlier this week.

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PM tries to ‘clarify’ Jimmy Savile ‘slur’

Mr Johnson stepped back from his use of the discredited claim after days of criticism, saying Sir Keir “had nothing to do personally with those decisions” and “I was making a point about his responsibility for the organisation as a whole”.

Asked if he would have used the words that the PM did in the Commons on Monday, Mr Kwarteng said: “In that context I think it was perfectly reasonable to mention the fact that Sir Keir had apologised.

“Sir Keir himself apologised on behalf of the organisation he led about the fact that they failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile.

“So the fact that he apologised suggests that he does, at some level, bear some responsibility.”

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Pressed further on whether he would have used those words, Mr Kwarteng said: “No, what I’m trying to say is that it’s about leadership, it’s about accountability.

“Sir Keir apologised and so that’s something that was absolutely in scope. I’m not saying that he had personal blame, he didn’t.

“We’ve been very clear about that and the prime minister clarified that position as well.

“But I think in the cut and thrust of debate, when people are talking about leadership and accountability, bringing up something that Sir Keir himself apologised for seems reasonable.”

The business secretary’s comments come after both Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid distanced themselves from the PM’s use of the claim.

Mr Kwarteng also said it was not “inevitable” that the PM will be removed from office over the partygate scandal engulfing Downing Street.