Boris Johnson: Conservative MPs face dilemma on damning Partygate voteon June 16, 2023 at 6:50 am

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It is unclear whether Rishi Sunak will join the Commons vote on a report condemning Boris Johnson.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson places his hand on his head as he is deep in thought at a news conference inside No 10 Downing Street, LondonImage source, EPA

Conservative MPs are split over whether or not to approve a report condemning Boris Johnson for misleading Parliament over Covid rule-breaking.

The former PM has branded the Privileges Committee’s findings “deranged” – and his most loyal supporters are set to vote against it.

But other Tory MPs are torn about what to do, as Mr Johnson remains popular with many party members.

No 10 has not said if Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will attend the vote.

His official spokesman said he would “take the time” to fully consider its findings before Monday, when MPs will vote on its recommendations.

The report, which was published on Thursday morning, said the former PM had deliberately misled Parliament over lockdown parties and had committed repeated offences with his denials.

If Mr Johnson had still been in Parliament, MPs would be voting on whether to suspend him for 90 days.

But since he has already stood down, the main punishment available to the committee is to strip him of the parliamentary pass former MPs are normally entitled to hold.

Nevertheless, many Conservatives face a dilemma.

Voting against the recommendations risks alienating local party activists who want Mr Johnson gone – but voting for it risks angering his fans, who believe he has been hounded out of Parliament.

Some MPs may well choose to abstain to keep their distance from the vote.

The BBC has spoken to several Conservative MPs who did not want to be named.

One former minister told the BBC they were planning to vote for the report but, in a sign of the febrile mood, did not want to say so publicly yet in case “something happens” over the weekend.

Another said: “I think I’m hovering between voting for the report and abstaining, the latter solely because voting for it will rile members.”

One senior party figure said: “The report speaks for itself.” They described the 90-day suspension as “a bit tough, but hey-ho”.

Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, told the BBC he was likely to support the report, describing the committee as “legitimate” and their conclusions “damning”.

Asked if most Conservatives would follow suit, he said he expected it to pass easily with some abstentions, adding “there will be some of [Mr Johnson’s] dwindling band of loyalists who want to repeat some of the barbs he has thrown at the committee”.

One Conservative criticised Mr Sunak, telling the BBC: “What disappoints me is the current PM has made no public comments that this is a sad end to a distinguished political career – the failure of the PM to say something complimentary about Boris Johnson seems to me irresponsible.”

So far 12 Conservatives have publicly criticised the committee:

  • Johnson ally Nadine Dorries suggested Tories who vote for the report should be kicked out of the party
  • Sir James Duddridge tweeted: “Why not go the full way, put Boris in the stocks and provide rotten food to throw at him?”
  • Liz Truss told GB News she would not question the integrity of the committee, but added their decision seemed “very harsh”.

Jacob Rees-Mogg said he would “probably” vote against the report, but added that MPs as a whole would be likely to vote in favour. Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP are all expected to support the committee’s findings.

Richard Graham, the Tory MP for Gloucester, likened Mr Johnson’s political rise to an “extraordinary political shooting star” but said “there is no-one to blame but himself for what has happened since”.

MPs will be able to amend the motion when it comes before the House of Commons on 19 June, which is also Mr Johnson’s 59th birthday.

Sir Ed Davey criticised the amount of time the government is spending debating Mr Johnson’s conduct, and said the Conservative party is operating “in absolute chaos”.

The Liberal Democrats’ leader told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The Conservative government is proposing that parliament spends all day on Monday debating Boris Johnson.

“We should be spending the day thinking about how we help people.”

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Lord Caine, who was appointed as a Northern Ireland minister by Boris Johnson in 2019, said he could understand why people might feel angry about Mr Johnson’s conduct, and spoke about his mother’s funeral during the pandemic.

“I had to deliver a eulogy to the nine other people in the chapel and then go home, sit on my own, in her house for the rest of the afternoon,” he told BBC Northern Ireland’s The View politics programme.

“I have never felt so lonely in my life. So I think people might draw their own conclusions about how I feel and I imagine a great many people up and down the country will share those feelings.”

Following a year-long investigation, the seven-person Privileges Committee found Mr Johnson had had “personal knowledge” of Covid-rule breaches in Downing Street but had repeatedly failed to “pro-actively investigate” the facts.

The committee said officials had not advised Mr Johnson that social distancing guidelines were followed at all times, contrary to what he said in the House of Commons at the time.

In key evidence, Martin Reynolds – one of Mr Johnson’s most senior officials – said he had advised the PM against making the claim, questioning whether it was “realistic”.

Mr Johnson announced last Friday that he was standing down as an MP with immediate effect after being shown a draft of the report.

A by-election will be held on 20 July in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency.

In an eviscerating statement he branded the committee a “kangaroo court” and its findings “deranged”, accusing Harriet Harman, the Labour chairwoman of the committee, of bias.

The committee said the initial proposed sanction was increased “in light of Mr Johnson’s conduct” in recent days – including breaching confidentiality rules and “being complicit in the campaign of abuse and attempted intimidation of the committee”.

Mr Johnson’s statement was “completely unacceptable”, they said.

Responding to the report, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said Mr Johnson had “disgraced himself”, and the Liberal Democrats’ Daisy Cooper said he had treated Parliament with “total disdain”. SNP leader Humza Yousaf called it a “dark day” for Westminster.

The day before the report was published, Mr Johnson called for one of the committee members – Conservative Sir Bernard Jenkin – to resign over claims he had himself breached Covid restrictions.

The BBC has not been able to independently verify the claims. Sir Bernard has been approached for comment.

The Met Police said it had received “a third-party report following media reporting of alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations”.

It added: “The information is being assessed. There is no investigation and officers have not been in contact with the Speaker’s Office about this matter.”

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