Boris Johnson’s continued tenure as prime minister may be in danger after MPs voted to launch an inquiry into whether he deliberately misled them about his attendance at lockdown-busting Downing Street parties.
No actual vote was taken because – after all the bluster that the Conservatives would not allow an investigation to take place, in the end, no objection was voiced to the motion and it went through “on the nod”.
This signifies a huge about-turn in the attitude of Conservative MPs.
Johnson’s Tory government had indicated that it would submit an amendment to Labour’s motion for an inquiry, seeking to delay the vote.
But this was withdrawn. Perhaps ministers had realised that backbenchers were being influenced by the public mood against their prime minister, and thought it would be better to let them express their feelings in a single vote, rather than two.
Conservatives certainly showed no reticence about expressing themselves during the debate.
It seems they were not prepared to defend Johnson, believing that it would reflect badly on them, allowing voters to accuse them of covering up their prime minister’s criminality and dishonesty.
William Wragg, Conservative MP and Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said few Conservatives can “truly enjoy” being an MP at the moment, and it is “utterly depressing” to be asked to “defend the indefensible”. He would vote for an investigation into Johnson’s behaviour.
Former Brexit Minister Steve Baker said he had wanted to forgive Johnson after the prime minister made an apology to MPs on Tuesday – but “that spirit of earnest willingness to forgive lasted about 90 seconds” into a meeting Boris Johnson held with his backbenchers later the same day.
“[It was] an orgy of adulation, a great festival of bombast, and I cannot bear these things… This level of transgression, this level of demand for forgiveness requires more than an apology drawing a line under it and moving on in the way the prime minister sought to do in his interviews.”
He said both Johnson and his advisers “need to understand this is a permanent stone in his shoe” and those who want to forgive him “want to see permanent contrition”.
Baker went on to tell the story of a constituent who didn’t get to see his wife of 50 years in a care home before she died, because of lockdown rules. “What am I to say to that man? I could say… you and I are Christian men and forgiveness is hard. [But] I don’t want to forgive him. I do not want to forgive our prime minister.”
He added that, if he was in any other job, Johnson would be “long gone”.
“Having watched the contrition… it only lasted as long as it took to get out of the headmaster’s study, and that’s not good enough for me, and that’s not good enough for my voters. I have to say now the possibility [of forgiveness] has gone… and for not obeying the letter and the spirit, the prime minister now should be long gone.
“The prime minister should just know the gig’s up.”
Conservative MP Peter Aldous said “this situation is completely unprecedented” – and the Privileges Committee should be invited to investigate.
Conservative Andrew Mangnall, MP for Totnes, said he still has a letter of no confidence in the prime minister with Sir Graham Brady of the 1922 Committee: “Every day that I see issues and rules broken in this place only reaffirms my belief that we have to stand up in this place and make it clear that dishonesty, inaction and misleading of the house cannot be tolerated, from anyone.”
He said he forgave Johnson for making mistakes – “but not for misleading the house as I see it”. He welcomed the motion and said he looked forward to the findings pf the Privileges Committee.
The investigation, by the Commons Privileges Committee, will not take place until the last fixed penalty notices are delivered by the Metropolitan Police and Sue Gray, who ran a Cabinet Office inquiry into the matter, is allowed to deliver her own final report.
Once all the information from the police and Ms Gray has become public knowledge, the committee of MPs – most of them Conservative – will decide Johnson’s fate.
If today’s performance is any yardstick, it isn’t looking good.
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