Johnson faces investigation into whether he lied to MPs about partygate

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Boris Johnson was told “the gig’s up” by a senior Tory as he faced the prospect of a parliamentary investigation into whether he lied to MPs about Downing Street parties during coronavirus lockdowns.

The Government was forced to abandon an attempt to order Conservative MPs to vote for a delay in setting up any investigation as the scale of discontent on the Tory benches was laid bare.

The investigation, by the Privileges Committee, is now expected to be approved – although it will not begin until police inquiries have concluded.

Mr Johnson – who was away from the Commons on an official visit to India – insisted he was content to face extra scrutiny, with the parliamentary investigation adding to inquiries conducted by the Metropolitan Police and senior civil servant Sue Gray.

Boris Johnson visit to India
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in India so unable to take part in the Commons debate (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

But it will mean the partygate scandal is prolonged and some Tory MPs’ patience with the Prime Minister is wearing thin.

In a blow to Mr Johnson, former minister Steve Baker, an influential organiser on the Tory benches, said the Prime Minister “should be long gone”.

Mr Baker, who was a prominent Brexiteer involved in ousting Theresa May, said: “Really, the Prime Minister should just know the gig’s up.”

Tory MPs had initially been ordered to back a Government amendment which would defer any decision on referring the matter to the committee until after the conclusion of the Met Police inquiry.

But in a late U-turn shortly before the debate began, Tory MPs were given a free vote.

The move appeared to confirm speculation at Westminster that a significant number of Conservatives were not prepared to back the Government’s attempt to kick the issue into the long grass.

The scale of discontent was set out by Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee chairman William Wragg, who confirmed he had submitted a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson’s leadership.

“I cannot reconcile myself to the Prime Minister’s continued leadership of our country and the Conservative Party,” he told MPs.

In a scathing speech, Mr Wragg said: “There can be few colleagues on this side of the House I would contend who are truly enjoying being Members of Parliament at the moment.

“It is utterly depressing to be asked to defend the indefensible. Each time part of us withers.”

Mr Johnson was unable to escape the scandal during his visit to Ahmedabad, with the issue dominating a round of broadcast interviews.

The Prime Minister insisted he has “absolutely nothing, frankly, to hide” as he explained why he had dropped the attempt to delay a decision on the investigation.

He told Sky News: “People were saying it looks like we are trying to stop stuff. I didn’t want that. I didn’t want people to be able say that.”

He said he remains confident of leading the Tories into the next general election.

In response to Mr Baker’s call for him to quit, the Prime Minister said: “I understand people’s feelings. I don’t think that is the right thing to do.”

The Prime Minister said he would be able to give a “fuller account” of his actions once the police investigation is over and the Gray report is published.

He told the BBC: “But until then, I have to say, I think a lot of this is not very useful. There’s not a lot more I can say and what I want to do is focus on the things that I think are a massive long-term benefit to this country.”

The Privileges Committee will investigate whether Mr Johnson is in contempt of Parliament for misleading MPs with his repeated denials of lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister had tried to “cover up his misdeeds” by taking advantage of the Commons convention not to call someone a liar.

Boris Johnson visit to India
There was no escape from the partygate saga for the Prime Minister, despite being in India (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“The Prime Minister has stood before this House and said things that are not true, safe in the knowledge that he will not be accused of lying because he can’t be,” Sir Keir said.

“He has stood at that despatch box and point blank denied rule-breaking took place, when it did.

“As he did so, he was hoping to gain extra protection from our good faith that no Prime Minister would deliberately mislead the House.”

Scotland Yard’s investigation into the parties in Downing Street and Whitehall during England’s lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 is continuing, although May 5’s local elections mean no announcement about further fines will be made until after polling day.

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

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

The motion being voted on by MPs states Mr Johnson’s comments “including but not limited to” four separate remarks in the Commons “appear to amount to misleading the House”.

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