• Thursday, December 08, 2022

HEADLINE STORY

Johnson seeks to delay decision on Partygate probe

Prime Minister Boris Johnson waves from a JCB at the new JCB Factory in Vadodara, Gujarat, during his two day trip to India on April 21, 2022. (Photo by Ben Stansall – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

By: Pramod Thomas

PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson hopes to defuse a parliamentary showdown on Thursday (21) by asking lawmakers to delay a decision on whether he should be investigated over accusations that he misled parliament about breaches of Covid-19 rules.

He faces a test of Conservative party loyalty on Thursday when MPs vote on whether he should be investigated for misleading them over the “Partygate” scandal.

Hoping to avert a rebellion in the party, the government has proposed an amendment that would delay that decision until after a police investigation into the alleged lockdown breaches is completed.

“I’m very keen for every possible form of scrutiny… but all I would say is I don’t think that that should happen until the investigation is completed,” Johnson told reporters during a visit to India on Thursday, adding that lawmakers should have “the full facts” before voting.

Johnson repeatedly denied in the House of Commons that he or his Downing Street staff had breached Covid-19 lockdown laws, after allegations of widespread rule-breaking emerged late last year.

But last week he became the first UK leader to be fined for breaking the law, as police confirmed they had issued dozens of penalty notices to his staff as part of an ongoing investigation.

Johnson’s single fine is related to an office gathering for his birthday in June 2020, when Britain was under a pandemic lockdown.

But penalties for other events could follow, and opposition parties are now demanding parliament’s cross-party “privileges committee” investigate Johnson.

It has the power to sanction lawmakers if they are found guilty of offences, including suspending them from the Commons.

However, the committee can only launch an investigation if a majority in the Commons votes for a referral.

The main opposition Labour party has urged Conservatives to back its call for the committee to assess whether Johnson’s denials amounted to “contempt of the House”.

It would need a sizeable rebellion among the 359 lawmakers from Johnson’s ruling Conservatives to pass, which is seen as unlikely.

But with an eye on local elections next month, Labour is pressing ahead with a bid to name and shame Tory MPs supporting Johnson, and hopes at least to force many of them to abstain.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson disembarks from an Indian military Chinook helicopter upon his arrival in Gandhinagar on April 21, 2022. (Photo by Ben Stansall – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

‘Do the right thing’

Labour leader Keir Starmer Tuesday (19) recounted to a hushed Commons the experience of one voter who, out of respect for the rules then in place, was unable to hold his dying wife’s hand in hospital.

He said the vote was “an important step towards restoring honesty and integrity into our politics”.

“I am urging all Conservative MPs to do the right thing — to respect the sacrifices their constituents made, and to vote in the national interest.”

Johnson apologised over the scandal but remains adamant he never knowingly misled parliament, and has vowed to press on with issues including the war in Ukraine.

He also told The Sun newspaper that he would fight the next general election, saying “not a lot of circumstances spring to mind” in which he would quit.

But one junior minister resigned last week following the police fine, while senior Tory backbencher Mark Harper told parliament on Tuesday that Johnson was “no longer… worthy” of being prime minister.

A drubbing for the Conservatives in the local elections on May 5 could significantly add to his woes, if more Tory MPs join the likes of Harper in demanding a leadership vote.

One national survey this week found around two-thirds of the public spoke negatively about Johnson, compared to just 16 percent positively, with the word “liar” the most commonly shared response.

Business minister Paul Scully conceded that the government “didn’t handle it particularly well at that point, communication-wise”, when media reports of the Downing Street parties first emerged.

“Nonetheless, the prime minister has gripped it, he has apologised, he’s accepted the fine, he has accepted the finding of the police and he does want to move on,” Scully told BBC television.

(Agencies)

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