Sajid Javid has called for people to “draw a line under” Boris Johnson’s use of a Jimmy Savile slur last week.
Speaking to Kay Burley, the health secretary said it was time to “move on” from Mr Johnson’s remark attacking Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer over the failure to prosecute Savile when he was director of public prosecutions.
It comes as the PM continues to face calls to apologise for making the discredited claim, while some ministers have distanced themselves from the comment.
Asked if Mr Johnson should say sorry, Mr Javid said: “I understand the sensitivities around this – and this is why the prime minister himself, after he said what he said in parliament, has clarified his remarks.
“And really, I think that is all there is to this now. I think we should really just try to move on from this.
“There is so much else that is going on, and I think we should draw a line under this issue and try to move on because the prime minister has come forward and clarified his remarks.”
Sir Keir accused the PM 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 last week.
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”.
“I was making a point about his responsibility for the organisation as a whole,” the PM added.
Cabinet split on PM’s use of claim
On Sunday, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky News the comments were “perfectly reasonable”.
It came after Chancellor Rishi Sunak distanced himself from the PM’s use of the claim.
Mr Sunak said in a Downing Street news briefing on Thursday that he “wouldn’t of said it”.
Conservative peer Lord Barwell, who was chief of staff under Mr Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May, told Sky News making the allegation was a “stupid thing” for the PM to have done.
Mr Johnson’s policy chief Munira Mirza resigned over the comment – one of five aides to depart Number 10 within the space of 24 hours, as the fallout from Downing Street gatherings during COVID restrictions continues.
Twelve of the gatherings are being investigated by the Metropolitan Police.
The PM has since appointed a new director of communications and chief of staff, although questions have been raised about how Stephen Barclay will be able to carry out the latter role given he is already a minister and MP.
In 2020, fact-checking charity Full Fact looked into the claim Sir Keir had stopped Savile being charged in 2009, when Sir Keir was head of the CPS.
It said the decision not to prosecute Savile was made on the grounds of “insufficient evidence”, with the allegations against the disgraced DJ dealt with by local police and a reviewing lawyer for the CPS.
“A later investigation criticised the actions of both the CPS and the police in their handling of the situation,” Full Fact found.
“It did not suggest that Mr Starmer was personally involved in the decisions made.”
Former BBC television and radio presenter Savile, who died in 2011, is believed to be one of Britain’s most prolific sex offenders.
He was never brought to justice for his crimes.