London: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will face a crucial House of Commons vote this week on whether he should be referred for an investigation over his partygate statements to Parliament, it was confirmed on Tuesday.
The vote, which has been granted for Thursday, is expected to coincide with Johnson’s two-day India visit as he is scheduled for events in Ahmedabad on that day.
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle granted a request from Opposition MPs for a vote after a debate on the question of whether Johnson misled MPs when he initially said that no rules were broken, as allegations of lockdown-breaching parties within Downing Street soon escalated into a full-blown partygate scandal.
As Parliament reconvened after the Easter recess on Tuesday, Hoyle told Members of Parliament that it was not for him “to determine whether or not the Prime Minister has committed a contempt” but rather whether there was “an arguable case to be examined”.
Therefore, he said, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer could table a motion for such a debate.
“He’s not just broken the rules, he’s lied to the public and he’s lied to Parliament about it,” said Starmer.
The exact wording of the motion, which is yet to be tabled, could ask MPs to decide whether to refer Johnson to the Committee of Privileges.
Under parliamentary rules, UK government ministers are expected to resign for knowingly misleading MPs and correct the record as soon as possible if they inadvertently tell Parliament something false.
The clash stems from Johnson’s initial statement to the Commons that insisted COVID lockdown rules had been followed at No. 10 Downing Street in the wake of the first partygate allegations.
However, last week, he became the first British Prime Minister to be sanctioned for breaking the law when he, along with his wife Carrie and Indian-origin UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak, was fined for attending a birthday event for him in the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street in June 2020.
The trio were issued fixed penalty notices by Scotland Yard as part of the police force’s ongoing partygate investigation, which means a fine must be paid within 28 days unless contested in court.
All three immediately paid up their fines and apologised in the wake of the notices.
While Opposition parties have demanded Johnson and Sunak resign over the fines, the duo’s own party colleagues have stood by them with only a handful of them voicing their criticism within the Conservative Party.
Therefore, a parliamentary vote on the issue is expected to go in Johnson’s favour but will mark yet another dent to his leadership ahead of local council and mayoral elections scheduled for May 5.
Johnson’s first visit to India as UK Prime Minister will begin in Ahmedabad on Thursday with investment announcements in key industries in both the UK and India.
He will then proceed to New Delhi to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday, when the focus will be on India-UK strategic defence and diplomatic and economic partnership.
According to officials on both sides, Johnson will also use his India visit to drive progress in the ongoing Free Trade Agreement negotiations launched earlier this year.