PM claims partygate scandal matters little to voters

Tory MPs were facing pressure to back the opposition bid for a Commons Privileges Committee investigation.

Sam Blewett
Wednesday 20 April 2022 22:58
Prime Minister Boris Johnson boards a plane at Stansted Airport as he departs for a visit to India (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson boards a plane at Stansted Airport as he departs for a visit to India (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Boris Johnson has suggested the partygate scandal matters little to voters and vowed to fight the next election no matter how many times he is fined for breaching Covid laws.

The Prime Minister will be on an official trip to India when a Labour-led motion calling for a Commons investigation into whether he lied to Parliament takes place on Thursday.

The Government has tabled an amendment to delay the vote on the probe until the Metropolitan Police’s own inquiry into lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street and Whitehall has concluded, and the Sue Gray report has been published.

This will allow MPs “to have all the facts at their disposal” when they make a decision, it said.

It is understood that all Tory MPs will be whipped to support the amendment.

A Labour source claimed that any Conservative supporting the change would be “voting for a cover up”.

Conservatives were facing pressure to back the opposition bid for a Commons Privileges Committee investigation after Mr Johnson was fined by police over a birthday event in 2020.

The PM tried to avoid discussing partygate on the flight to Gujarat, including when asked to give a direct message to Tory MPs who are putting their reputations on the line with the vote.

Asked by journalists travelling with him whether he would fight the next general election, the Prime Minister replied: “Of course.”

Pressed on whether there were no circumstances under which he would consider resigning, Mr Johnson said: “Not a lot that spring to mind at the moment.

“But if you want to sketch some out I’m sure you could entertain your viewers with some imaginary circumstances in which I might have to resign, but I don’t propose to go into them, I can’t think of them right now.”

Mr Johnson’s aides are braced for him to receive multiple fines, having already been handed one fixed-penalty notice for the gathering for his 56th birthday.

He is thought to have been at six of the 12 events under investigation by Scotland Yard.

Mr Johnson continued: “Politics has taught me one thing which is you’re better off talking and focusing on the things that matter, the things that make a real difference to the electorate and not about politicians themselves.”

Pressed if that means partygate does not matter to the public, he said: “You’re better off talking about things other than politicians themselves, is my view.”

Mr Johnson apologised for falling foul of Covid laws during a bruising Commons debate on Wednesday.

When MPs vote on Thursday, Conservatives will be urged to back the Government’s amendment to delay making a decision on whether to launch an inquiry until all other investigations finish.

Mr Johnson sought to justify the position, which comes after Tory MP Craig Whittaker called for him to refer himself to an investigation to end the saga.

Asked why he will not submit himself to an inquiry if he has nothing to hide, Mr Johnson said: “I think the best thing is if the investigation is concluded. There’s a police investigation that has not concluded. We have to wait for that and then for Sue Gray to have her final say.”

Pressed if he would back one after that point, he said: “I think we need to wait and see where it gets.”

A Government spokesperson said: “The Government has tabled an amendment to Labour’s motion which says that consideration of this matter should take place after the conclusion of the police investigation, and the publication of the Cabinet Office report, allowing MPs to have all the facts at their disposal.”

A Labour source said: “Tory whips obviously knew that they couldn’t vote this down. They clearly haven’t learnt a thing from the mess they got into over Owen Paterson.

“Boris Johnson is trying to rig the rules to deflect from his own law breaking. Any Tory MP who votes for this is voting for a cover up.”

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