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The Commons will decide on Thursday if the Privileges Committee should be asked to consider whether the Prime Minister’s conduct amounts to contempt of Parliament.
The motion, tabled by leading figures from seven opposition parties, says that the committee’s inquiry should not begin in earnest until the Metropolitan Police have concluded their own investigation into alleged lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street and Whitehall.
But the Government has tabled an amendment stating that the vote on the inquiry itself should not take place until after the police investigation has come to an end and the Sue Gray report has been published.
This will allow MPs “to have all the facts at their disposal” when they make a decision, it said.
It is understood that all Tory MPs will be whipped to support the amendment.
A Labour source claimed that any Conservative supporting the change would be “voting for a cover up”.
A Government spokesperson 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.”
The amendment states that the PM has “accepted mistakes were made” in relation to events in No 10 and the Cabinet Office while coronavirus regulations were in force, and has apologised to the House of Commons and to the country.
Mr Johnson has already received one fixed-penalty notice for attending his birthday party in the Cabinet Room in June 2020 but is thought to have been at half of the 12 gatherings under investigation by Scotland Yard.
The Prime Minister will not vote on the motion on Thursday as he will be on an official visit to India.
Earlier, opposition leaders urged Conservatives not to block the investigation into Mr Johnson’s actions.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “We are urging Conservative MPs to do the right thing: To respect the sacrifice that their constituents made during the pandemic, to say that the public were right to follow the rules, and to vote in the national interest, not under pressure from the party whips.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: “Conservative MPs should think carefully before voting to block an investigation into Boris Johnson’s lies. The public won’t stomach another Conservative stitch-up that drags our democracy through the mud just to protect one of their own.”
The motion suggests that comments “including but not limited to” four separate remarks in the Commons “appear to amount to misleading the House”.
The highlighted comments are:
– On December 1 2021, Mr Johnson told MPs “that all guidance was followed in No 10”.
– On December 8 2021, the Prime Minister told the Commons: “I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken.”
– Also on December 8 2021, he said: “I am sickened myself and furious about that, but I repeat what I have said to him: I have been repeatedly assured that the rules were not broken.”
– Finally on the same date: “The guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.”
The Privileges Committee has wide-ranging powers to investigate whether Mr Johnson misled Parliament, crucially including the ability to compel the release of reports, documents and photos linked to the partygate scandal.
If it is found the Prime Minister’s conduct did amount to contempt by deliberately misleading the House then it could recommend sanctions – although it is unclear what penalties could be applied.
However, the ministerial code is clear that ministers who deliberately mislead the House are expected to quit.
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 this is voting for a cover up.”