Later today MPs will vote on whether they support the privileges committee report which found Boris Johnson deliberately misled Parliament over parties held in Downing Street during COVID-19 lockdown.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is set to miss the debate, while Levelling up, Housing and Communities Secretary, Michael Gove has confirmed he is abstaining.
The partygate inquiry
After a 14-month investigation, the committee found Boris Johnson had committed ‘repeated contempts’ of Parliament with his Partygate denials and said it would have recommended a huge 90-day suspension if he had not stepped down as an MP already. In written evidence, one official told the panel that Number 10 was an ‘oasis of normality’ where COVID-19 rules went ignored and ‘Wine Time Fridays’ continued while the rest of the country faced harsh restrictions. They said staff were warned to be ‘mindful’ of press cameras outside and follow guidance as they left but it was ‘all pantomime’.
The long-awaited report concluded Mr Johnson misled the Commons by:
Claiming rules and guidance were followed at all times in Number 10 on four separate occasions.
Failing to tell the House about his own knowledge of the gatherings where the rules or guidance had been broken.
Saying he relied on ‘repeated reassurances’ that rules had not been broken.
Insisting on waiting for Sue Gray’s report to be published before he could answer questions in the House, when he had ‘personal knowledge which he did not reveal’.
By claiming that rules and guidance had been followed while he was present at gatherings in Number 10 when he ‘purported to correct the record’ in May 2022.
The vote will be a free vote for Tory MPs, meaning whips will not instruct them what to do at the vote, which is expected to take place this evening after a debate. Commons votes are initially conducted by voice, with a division – where MPs go through the voting lobbies to record their support – only called if the Speaker thinks the result is not obvious.
opposition MPs are expected to shout ‘aye’ later to approve the report, but if no MP in the chamber shouts ‘no’ then there won’t be a division, meaning the votes of individual MPs will not be recorded.
The report is expected to pass easily but Johnson asking his allies not to vote against it so it is likely that some Conservative MPs could abstain or not turn up to take part.
Housing Secretary Michael Gove, who also served in Johnson’s cabinet, has confirmed he will abstain – becoming the first member of the Government to say what he intends to do.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is yet to confirm whether he will vote on the report’s findings and this morning said he would not want to influence anyone ahead of the vote. Sunak stated ‘This committee was established under the former Prime Minister. It commanded the confidence of the house at the time and I’m sure that they have done their work thoroughly and I respect them for that.
“This is a matter for the house rather than the government, that’s an important distinction and that is why I wouldn’t want to influence anyone in advance of that vote. It will be up to each and every individual MP to make a decision of what they want to do when the time comes, it’s important the government doesn’t get involved in that because it is a matter for parliament and members as individuals, not as members as government” he continued.
Labour leader Keir Starmer has said that Sunak should participate in any potential vote, rather than abstain. “We need to know where Rishi Sunak stands on this. He should show leadership, come along, get in the lobby and show us where he stands on this”.
Defending the committee’s inquiry, Starmer continued ‘I think some of this criticism, which all seems to be coming from ‘Camp Boris Johnson’, is frankly ridiculous.’
Opposition MPs and the bereaved families of COVID-19 victims say the report should be ‘the final nail in the coffin’ of Johnson’s political career while several of Johnson’s allies are criticising the committee for its findings. It remains unclear how many of Johnson’s allies are ultimately willing to turn up to register their opposition; only tonight’s vote will tell.