Rishi Sunak ‘would not want to influence anyone’ ahead of Johnson partygate vote
Rishi Sunak has refused to say whether he will approve the report that found Boris Johnson lied over partygate, saying he “would not want to influence anyone in advance of that vote”.
Speaking to Good Morning Britain on ITV, the Prime Minister said: “This committee was established under the former Prime Minister. It commanded the confidence of the house at the time and I’m sure that they have done their work thoroughly and I respect them for that.
“This is a matter for the house rather than the government, that’s an important distinction and that is why I wouldn’t want to influence anyone in advance of that vote.
“It will be up to each and every individual MP to make a decision of what they want to do when the time comes, it’s important the government doesn’t get involved in that because it is a matter for parliament and members as individuals, not as members as government.”
The motion on the Privileges Committee’s findings comes as Scotland Yard is “considering” the footage from a 2020 Christmas gathering at Conservative Party headquarters.
Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove, who has apologised for the video showing Tory staff dancing and joking about Covid restrictions, will also abstain from a vote.
He said it was a matter for each individual MP to decide their own course of action over the committee findings – leaving the door open for other Conservatives to follow suit and potentially avoid casting a ballot.
Whether or not a vote on the report takes place on Monday – which is the former prime minister’s birthday – depends in part on how many Johnson loyalists decide to oppose the report.
The former prime minister was urging his allies not to oppose it, arguing the sanctions have no practical effect, although critics argue the level of support shown for him would have been low anyway.
Tory MPs will be given a free vote, but allies of Mr Johnson warned they could face battles with their local parties to remain as candidates at the next election if they back the motion.
Senior backbencher Bill Cash, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, said he would turn up to vote against the findings, citing the former prime minister’s “historic achievements”.
But with at least three potentially damaging by-elections looming following the resignations of Mr Johnson, Nigel Adams and David Warburton, many could decide instead to spend Monday hitting the campaign trail.
No 10 has declined to say whether the Prime Minister will attend the debate, but he will be hosting a foreign leader in Downing Street on Monday which could give him an excuse not to take part.
The Times and The Telegraph newspapers report he is expected to not to cast a vote on the committee’s findings.
In a scathing 108-page report, the cross-party group of MPs recommended a 90-day suspension for Mr Johnson’s “repeated contempts” of Parliament had he not pre-emptively resigned. It also says he should be denied the parliamentary pass usually given to former MPs.
The former Conservative leader has dismissed the findings of the committee, which he likened to a “kangaroo court,” as smacking of “bias” – attacks which led it to recommend a harsher sanction against him.
If the report is not opposed then it could just be nodded through the Commons.
The sanctions proposed by the Tory-majority committee are expected to pass regardless, with only a relatively small group of Johnson loyalists expected to oppose the report’s findings.
The debate comes after the Sunday Mirror obtained a video appearing to show Conservative staff dancing and joking about Covid restrictions at the height of the pandemic.
The footage of the event, which happened when indoor socialising was banned and people across the country were separated from family and friends, poses a further setback to Mr Sunak’s efforts to move on from his predecessor-but-one’s legacy.
It has also renewed accusations from opposition parties that the Prime Minister is “weak” for not intervening over Mr Johnson’s resignation honours.
Both former London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey and Tory aide Ben Mallet – who were handed a peerage and an OBE, respectively – attended the gathering.
Mr Gove told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg the pair should not be stripped of their honours because rules allow outgoing prime ministers to make such appointments.
The Metropolitan Police, which previously investigated the gathering and claimed there was “insufficient evidence to disprove the version of events provided by attendees,” has said it is looking at the video.
A spokesperson for the force said: “We are aware of the footage and are considering it.”
CCHQ said “formal disciplinary action” was taken against four staff members, who were seconded to Mr Bailey’s mayoral campaign, over the “unauthorised” event.
Mr Bailey had reportedly left the gathering when the video was taken and has previously apologised for his involvement.
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