Boris Johnson caves in and has Partygate scandal investigated – POLITICO

LONDON – Boris Johnson’s government gave way to calls for a parliamentary inquiry into a scandal over his attendance at an anti-lockdown party after an attempt to stave it off backfired.

Conservative MPs criticized Johnson’s government in a heated debate in the House of Commons that culminated in an opposition plan to investigate the so-called “Partygate” affair, which went unopposed.

Johnson apologized to the House of Commons this week after being fined by police for attending a government meeting in June 2020, when indoor gatherings were banned due to COVID restrictions. Johnson had previously said the rules would be followed at all times.

In 24 hours of political drama, the opposition Labor Party tabled a motion demanding that Johnson be investigated by the Commons Privileges Committee, which deals with contempt of Parliament. With crucial local elections approaching, Labor is trying to determine whether Johnson misled MPs by claiming he was playing by the rules.

To thwart this plan, the government proposed an amendment demanding that any parliamentary inquiry be postponed until the police had completed their inquiries and a separate report on the affair had been fully released by senior official Sue Gray.

But ministers abruptly withdrew that amendment just before the debate began to stave off a revolt by backbench Conservative MPs unhappy at being asked to cover Johnson.

With the government’s blessing, MPs eventually “nodded” Labor’s motion without a vote being required – effectively paving the way for an inquiry into Johnson’s conduct by the Privileges Committee.

A Downing Street spokesman insisted the amendment had only been withdrawn because the Government was now “satisfied” that the committee’s inquiry would not prejudge the police inquiry or the Gray report.

In reality, it appeared to be a retreat in response to growing discontent within the Conservative ranks, and tested Johnson’s influence within his own party.

Tory MPs who have criticized their leader welcomed the about-face. William Wragg, who made it clear he would support Labor’s motion, said he and his colleagues are now working in “a toxic atmosphere” which “carries the scars of leadership misjudgments”.

Others broke cover to join the growing ranks of Tories urging Johnson to leave. Steve Baker, a leading Brexiteer who has supported Johnson until now, said that although he has tried to forgive the leader, he now feels that “the Prime Minister should have left long ago because he knew the letter and the spirit of the law not followed”.

Union leader Keir Starmer said an investigation was essential, otherwise “we are all complicit in the public thinking we are all the same, no one is telling the truth that there are alternative facts”.

Attorney General Michael Ellis, answering for the government, said Johnson had issued a “heartfelt and unreserved” apology to Parliament. The Cabinet Secretary reiterated Johnson’s defense that at the time he did not believe the event for which he was fined violated coronavirus laws. He promised that the Prime Minister – who is currently on a trip to India – would return to Parliament to answer further questions after the police investigation was completed.

Those police investigations are ongoing, but a Metropolitan Police spokesman confirmed Thursday they would not issue any further fines ahead of next month’s local elections. Boris Johnson caves in and has Partygate scandal investigated - POLITICO

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