Boris Johnson has ordered Tory MPs to delay political attempts to investigate his Partygate lawbreaking amid fears of a rebellion by quietly furious backbenchers.
While the Prime Minister is 4,000 miles away on a two-day visit to India, opposition parties will attempt to launch an inquiry today into whether he misled the Commons over raucous drinking events in Downing Street.
Labour has organised a vote due this afternoon on referring Mr Johnson to the privileges committee. It has powers to request private information and determine whether the PM was lying when he told MPs no rules were broken.
He was among dozens of people handed £50 fines last week after having been found by police to have broken lockdown laws.
But late last night No10 launched a wrecking amendment, promising MPs a vote on an investigation but attempting to delay it until after the police probe has ended.
While many Tory MPs have publicly backed Mr Johnson this week, reports suggested whips were worried that enough quiet critics on the backbenches could abstain in the main vote to allow it to pass.
The amendment is covered by a three-line whip, meaning Tories face disciplinary action if they refuse to back it.
If, as expected, it succeeds in kicking the can down the road, it would also also rob Labour and the Liberal Democrats of ammunition before the local elections on May 5, when they were planning to highlight MPs’ support for a lawbreaking Prime Minister.
However, it risks the Government having to hold a potentially difficult vote some weeks or months down the line when Mr Johnson may have received further fines and face more criticism over issues like the cost-of-living crisis.
Mr Johnson last night mounted a bullish defence of his actions. Speaking to reporters on a flight to India, he said he would ‘of course’ lead the Tories into the next general election, expected in 2024.
He also suggested voters now wanted politicians to focus on ‘the issues that matter’ such as the economy.’
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.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to the media on board his flight as he flies to India for a two day visit. Wednesday April 20, 2022
Boris Johnson vowed last night to lead the Tories into the next election – as he ordered his MPs to delay a new probe into Partygate. Speaking to reporters on a flight to India, he said he would ‘of course’ contest the national poll in 2024 and suggested voters now wanted politicians to focus on ‘the issues that matter’ such as the economy’
While the Prime Minister is 4,000 miles away on a two-day visit to India, opposition parties will attempt to launch an inquiry into whether he misled the Commons over raucous drinking events in Downing Street.
Boris Johnson has refused to resign over Partygate, and was forced to abandon plans to delay a new investigation into his actions last night
‘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.
‘What the people of this country want is for the Conservative Government to get on with the job, and in particular get on with attracting jobs to this country.’
Cabinet minister Nadhim Zahawi said he expected Tory MPs to support the Government amendment to delay a decision on whether to launch a Privileges Committee inquiry into Boris Johnson’s conduct.
The Education Secretary told Sky News that ‘due process’ had to be followed, allowing the police investigation to conclude and senior official Sue Gray’s report to be released before MPs consider whether to refer Mr Johnson to the committee.
He said: ‘If you want to play politics with this, the shenanigans that Labour are attempting today is the route. If you want to follow due process then you allow the police to do their investigation, you allow the Sue Gray report to be published and then the Privileges Committee can look at that.’
Mr Zahawi added: ‘Most of my colleagues who are fair minded, who believe in due process, will vote for the amendment because it is the right thing to do.’
Mr Johnson’s aides are braced for him to receive multiple fixed penalty notices, having already been handed one for the gathering for his 56th birthday.
He is thought to have been at six of the 12 events under investigation by Scotland Yard.
When MPs vote on Thursday, Conservatives will be urged to back the amendment to delay making a decision on whether to launch an inquiry until all other investigations finish.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (second left) in the House of Commons where he made a statement to MPs following the announcement that he is among the 50-plus people fined so far as part of the Metropolitan Police probe into Covid breaches in Government
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 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 (the amendment) is voting for a cover up.’
Former Conservative minister Andrew Mitchell suggested on Wednesday evening that the PM could be referred to the Privileges Committee without a vote.
He told ITV’s Peston programme: ‘I don’t think there will be a vote tomorrow. I think the House of Commons will agree to refer it to the Privileges Committee.
‘I shan’t be there – quite a lot of my colleagues are heading off either tonight or tomorrow morning to their constituency. We expect this matter to be referred to the Privileges Committee, and I think the Government will go along with it.
‘After all, if you look down the years, references to the Privileges Committee have normally gone through on the nod.’
A Labour source claimed that any Conservative supporting the amendment would be ‘voting for a cover up’.
Mr Johnson told MPs an alleged party to celebrate the departure of Dominic Cummings (pictured) was actually a meeting to find his replacement
The Prime Minister could receive a second fine from police over the event which was held when Mr Cummings quite after losing a power struggle with Mr Johnson’s wife, Carrie (pictured)
A Government spokeswoman 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.’
Tories were facing pressure to back the opposition bid for a parliamentary investigation after Mr Johnson was fined by police over a birthday event in 2020.
The intervention came as it emerged he has told Tory MPs that an alleged party to celebrate the departure of Dominic Cummings was actually a ‘council of war’ to discuss his replacement.
An event in Mr Johnson’s Downing St flat on November 13, 2020 – the day Mr Cummings quit after losing a power struggle with Mr Johnson’s wife Carrie – is one of 12 under investigation.
Mrs Johnson is said to have held a ‘victory party’ to celebrate the chief aide’s departure.
Officials are reported to have told Miss Gray that music and dancing were heard from the Prime Minister’s flat.
But Tory sources said Mr Johnson described the gathering as a ‘work event’ when answering questions from Tory MPs behind closed doors.