Tory MPs will get free vote on any Johnson inquiry sanctions

·3-min read

Conservative MPs will be allowed to make decisions “as individuals” on any sanctions to be applied to Boris Johnson following the Privileges Committee inquiry, the Prime Minister has said.

Rishi Sunak indicated that Tory MPs will be given a free vote on the matter, ahead of the former PM’s appearance before the cross-party committee on Wednesday.

The publication of his defence to claims that he lied to Parliament with his partygate denials is now awaited, after Mr Johnson handed over the dossier on Monday afternoon.

Mr Sunak confirmed he will not tell his MPs how to vote on any sanctions that may be recommended by the committee, telling BBC Breakfast: “These are matters for Parliament and the House and MPs as individuals, rather than for Government. So that is the general process that we will follow.”

The Prime Minister declined to say whether he agreed with some of Mr Johnson’s allies that the process was a “witch hunt”, telling the programme: “That’s ultimately something for Boris Johnson and he’ll have the committee process to go through and that’s a matter for Parliament. That’s not what I’m focused on.”

Mr Johnson was first asked to provide a written submission in July last year, but provided it 48 hours before his televised questioning by the committee on Wednesday afternoon.

The committee confirmed it received the evidence, key to Mr Johnson’s political future, at 2.32pm on Monday.

Prime Minister’s Questions
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said MPs will be able to vote ‘as individuals’ on any sanctions on Boris Johnson (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

A spokesman for the panel of MPs said: “The committee will need to review what has been submitted in the interests of making appropriate redactions to protect the identity of some witnesses.

“The committee intends to publish this as soon as is practicably possible. The material will be published on the committee website.”

If Mr Johnson fails to convince the committee he did not deliberately mislead Parliament, he could be found to have committed a contempt of Parliament and receive a suspension. Such a move could ultimately end in a by-election.

An ally of the Conservative MP said his defence had been handed over on Monday “as planned”, adding: “The committee control the timing of publication. We encourage them to publish it as soon as possible.”

The defence is expected to take the form of a lengthy submission from Mr Johnson’s barrister, Lord Pannick KC.

The hearing clashes with a key vote on Mr Sunak’s new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland, which Democratic Unionist Party MPs plan to oppose.

An estimated £220,000 of taxpayers’ money has been allocated for Mr Johnson’s legal bills.

If the committee rules that he did mislead the House, they will consider whether it was “reckless or intentional” and amounted to a contempt of Parliament.

An interim report by the committee earlier this month said evidence strongly suggested breaches of coronavirus rules would have been “obvious” to the then-prime minister.

But Mr Johnson claimed it was “clear” he had not committed a contempt of Parliament, arguing there is “no evidence in the report that I knowingly or recklessly misled Parliament” or failed to update it in a timely manner.

Mr Johnson has also sought to cast doubt on the findings of Sue Gray’s report on partygate, after she quit the Civil Service to take up a role in Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s office.

The Privileges Committee is examining evidence around at least four occasions when Mr Johnson may have misled MPs with his assurances to the Commons that lockdown rules were followed.

The committee will publish its findings on whether the former prime minister committed a contempt of Parliament and make a recommendation on any punishment, but the ultimate decision will fall to the full House of Commons.