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by Kirsteen Paterson
21 April 2022
Partygate: Commons probe expected as Tory MPs given free vote on Labour-led push

Boris Johnson's statements to parliament are under scrutiny while he is in India

Partygate: Commons probe expected as Tory MPs given free vote on Labour-led push

The Prime Minister is expected to face investigation over whether or not he misled parliament after the government granted Tory MPs a free vote.

MPs are now debating a Labour-led motion aimed at setting up a Commons probe into Boris Johnson's comments over partygate.

The government had planned to introduce an amendment aimed at derailing the matter, but Commons leader Mark Spencer announced a U-turn on this just minutes before the debate began.

Conservative MPs have also been given a free vote, meaning they do not have to take part in the crunch decision or can vote for the opposition measure. Reports have emerged that the MPs were sent home.

The motion aims to allow an investigation by the Commons Privileges Committee into whether the Prime Minister misled parliament when he claimed lockdown rules were followed at "all times".

The amendment put forward by the government on Wednesday night called for any probe to be delayed until the Metropolitan Police concludes its investigation into lockdown-breaching gatherings in Downing Street.

In an email sent to Conservative MPs, government chief whip Chris Pincher wrote: "Colleagues should know, following the Prime Minister's remarks in India that he is happy for the Commons to decide on any referrals to the Privilege Committee, that we will no longer move our tabled amendment.

He added: "The vote on the unamended House business motion will be a free vote for all Conservative MPs."

The vote is taking place while the Prime Minister begins a two-day visit to India.

Speaking during the debate, Tory MP William Wragg confirmed he had submitted a letter of no confidence in the Prime Minister in December and could not "reconcile" himself with Johnson's continued leadership.

He said: "We have been working in a toxic atmosphere. The parliamentary party bears the scars of misguided leadership."

"It's utterly depressing to be asked to defend the indefensible. I have questioned my place in this party in recent months."

But speaking in India, Johnson denied he had misled parliament and urged MPs to wait for the police investigation to conclude before launching the probe. He said: "I'm very keen for every possible form of scrutiny and the House of Commons can do whatever it wants to do.

"But all I would say is I don't think that should happen until the investigation is completed."

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said the government's decision to pull its amendment was "humiliating", adding: "The government knew they couldn't win this, the Prime Minister is bang to rights."

Opening the debate, Keir Starmer said the motion "seeks to defend the simple principle that honesty, integrity and telling the truth matter in our politics".

"It's a principle that's been cherished by Conservatives for as long as that party has existed, embraced by unionist and nationalist parties alike, but one that still guides members from every political party in this house."

And he hit out at claims by some Conservative MPs that the penalty notice was equivalent to a speeding ticket, saying: "Every time one of these arguments is trotted out, the status of this house is gradually eroded."

The move comes after education secretary Nadhim Zahawi insisted on Thursday morning that MPs should back the government amendment to ensure "due process" was followed.

Speaking to Sky News, Zahawi accused Labour of "playing politics" and described the vote as "shenanigans".

"If you want to play politics with this, then the shenanigans that Labour are attempting today are the route," he said.

"If you want to follow due process then you allow the police to complete their investigation, you allow the Sue Gray report to be published, then the privileges committee can look at that.

"That is what I will be voting for today, the amendment is the right chronology and the right way to follow due process."

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said he believed "decent" Tory MPs were torn over how to vote.

He added: "I fear that many of them, despite their misgivings about Boris Johnson... will troop through the lobby like lemmings because they don't have the courage to stand up for what is right."

Johnson has insisted he will not resign over the partygate fines and plans to lead his party into the next general election.

He said: "I think the best thing that we can all do is focus on the things that really change and improve the lives of voters and stop talking about politicians."

Read more at Politics Home

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