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Partygate fallout leaves Sunak battling to contain Tory infighting

16 Jun 2023 5 minute read
Lucy North/PA Wire

The fallout from a scathing report which found Boris Johnson lied to MPs over partygate has left Rishi Sunak with a battle to hold his warring Tory party together.

The Commons will vote on Monday on the Privileges Committee’s report, which recommended that Mr Johnson should have faced a 90-day suspension had he not already resigned in advance of its judgment and be banned from holding a pass to access Parliament.

MPs will be given a free vote, but allies of Mr Johnson warned Tories they could face battles with their local parties to remain as candidates at the next election if they back the motion.

The sanctions proposed by the Tory-majority committee are expected to pass, with only a relatively small group of Johnson loyalists set to oppose the report’s findings, although many more Conservatives could simply not turn up.

Downing Street is yet to say whether the Prime Minister will vote on the report.

Senior Conservative MP Damian Green told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “deliberately abstaining is not really rising to the importance of the occasion”.

The former de facto deputy prime minister said he intends to vote to approve the report with a “heavy heart”.

Mr Johnson’s exit from Parliament has also left Mr Sunak facing a tricky by-election in Uxbridge and South Ruislip on July 20, with Labour hopeful of gaining the west London seat.

Another by-election on the same date, triggered by Tory Nigel Adams who was denied a peerage in Mr Johnson’s resignation honours list, will take place in Selby and Ainsty.

Deselection

Former Cabinet minister Nadine Dorries, who had also announced she was going to resign, is staying on while she seeks to investigate how she was denied a seat in the Lords as part of the former prime minister’s honours list.

She warned that any Tory MPs who endorsed the Privileges Committee’s report on Monday were not “true Conservatives” and would be “held to account by members and the public”.

“Deselections may follow. It’s serious,” she said.

Former MEP David Campbell Bannerman said: “Any Tory MP who endorses this report does not respect democracy and must face deselection.”

Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt called for calm, saying “all of us must do what we think is right and others must leave us alone to do so”.

Downing Street said Mr Sunak would “take the time to fully consider the report”, but officials were unable to say whether he would take part in Monday’s vote.

Cabinet minister David TC Davies said he believed the report had killed off Mr Johnson’s hopes for a political comeback.

Asked if Mr Johnson’s career was now over, the Welsh Secretary told BBC’s Question Time: “I think it probably is. I’m not saying whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

“I don’t really see any way back for Boris.”

Sir Jake Berry, a former Tory party chairman who is a close ally of Mr Johnson, conceded he was “almost certain that Parliament will vote in favour” of the report.

But he told told ITV’s Good Morning Britain he will “certainly be one of those in the no lobby opposing this report, because I think both the conclusions and, to some extent, the way the committee was made up in terms of this report are wrong.”

Misled

The committee found Mr Johnson deliberately misled the House with his partygate denials before being complicit in a campaign of abuse and intimidation against the MPs investigating him.

Branding him the first former prime minister to have ever lied to the Commons, the Privileges Committee said the offences merited a 90-day suspension which would have paved the way for a by-election if he had not preemptively resigned in protest.

Mr Johnson was furious at what he called a “deranged conclusion”, claiming the 14-month investigation had delivered “what is intended to be the final knife-thrust in a protracted political assassination”.

The committee, comprised of four Tories, two Labour MPs, and one from the SNP, found many aspects of Mr Johnson’s defence were “not credible”, allowing them to conclude he “intended to mislead” MPs.

They dismissed Mr Johnson’s argument that mid-pandemic staff leaving dos in Downing Street were essential to maintain staff morale, noting they attracted police fines while the rules would have been clear to him.

“A workplace ‘thank you’, leaving drink, birthday celebration or motivational event is obviously neither essential or reasonably necessary,” the MPs wrote.

“That belief, which he continues to assert, has no reasonable basis in the rules or on the facts.”

The committee said his public criticism was a “cynical attempt to manipulate” the opinions of MPs and the public.

Meanwhile, further evidence of Mr Sunak’s problems with managing his own party came as Telford MP Lucy Allan announced she would step down at the next election.

The Shropshire town is where Mr Johnson launched his 2019 manifesto, but Ms Allan said: “Today’s Conservative Party is just not interested in seats like Telford anymore.”


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Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
10 months ago

Albeit painful and sickening, this X rated Tory bloodbath horror show is also a delight to watch. With next to no time left until the election, this is the very time a governing party has to demonstrate it is worth our time to return them to government but with childish foot stamping demanding undeserved honours, continuing to defend the indefensible, MPs jumping ship before it sinks and its’ remaining passengers cutting each others’ (political) throats, salvation for us all is surely nigh.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
10 months ago

Sunak’s proven guilt in Partygate is being airbrushed out. He should be out on his ear and so should Hunt. Both should be charged with manslaughter along with Fat Shanks…

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
10 months ago

All this internal bickering while the rest of us are left to suffer the cost of living crisis. That is what this government should be focusing on. Roll on the next GE so we can kick this rabble out.

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