Boris seeks to delay Partygate vote as Starmer urged to say sorry for Commons spat

21 April 2022, 00:09 | Updated: 21 April 2022, 00:11

Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer are embroiled in a spat
Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer are embroiled in a spat. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Boris Johnson has flown to India as he hopes Tories will kick a proposed investigation into whether he misled Parliament into the future.

He faces a crucial vote on Labour's motion calling for a Commons investigation into his past remarks to MPs over Partygate.

And Tories rallying to Mr Johnson's defence ramped up their support for him as they tried to focus attention on Sir Keir Starmer, telling him to apologise for his remarks during Wednesday's fiery Prime Minister's Questions session.

Is it understood Tory MPs are all being whipped to support a Government amendment to delay the vote until the Metropolitan Police investigation into Covid rule breaches across Whitehall has been finished, and when civil servant Sue Gray's report has been published.

The motion will be voted on on Thursday.

Read more: Tories call for Starmer to apologise to Boris Johnson after Commons spat

The Government says delaying the vote will allow MPs to "have all the facts at their disposal" while a Labour source claimed any Tory who backs the amendment would be "voting for a cover up".

Boris Johnson, who has paid his fine for a birthday event in 2020, during Covid rules, tried not to discuss Partygate during his flight to Gujarat in India.

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His aides worry about the possibility of further fines over some of the 12 events being investigated by the Met.

But he told journalists on the trip he "of course" would fight the next general election, and when pushed over what scenarios he would ever consider resigning, he said: "Not a lot that spring to mind at the moment.

"But if you want to sketch some out I'm sure you could entertain your viewers with some imaginary circumstances in which I might have to resign, but I don't propose to go into them, I can't think of them right now."

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He went on: "Politics has taught me one thing which is you're better off talking and focusing on the things that matter, the things that make a real difference to the electorate and not about politicians themselves."

The Prime Minister said sorry to MPs for his fine this week.

Attempts to paint the Partygate affair as relatively trivial compared to the Ukraine war have been criticised, with Mr Johnson's opponents referring to past cases of Prime Ministers being replaced at times of conflict.

And Conservatives tried to turn the tables on Labour leader Sir Keir on Wednesday.

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A spat broke out during Wednesday's Prime Minister's Questions, when Sir Keir claimed Mr Johnson had accused the BBC of not being critical enough of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Mr Johnson said the claims - alleged to have been made during a private meeting with backbenchers on Tuesday night - had no foundation, saying Sir Keir "must be out of his tiny mind".

Tory party chairman Oliver Dowden wrote to Sir Keir and called on him to retract his comments and apologise to Mr Johnson.

"I am not aware that you have any evidence whatsoever to support this inaccurate claim," he said.

"I call on you to retract your comments and apologise to the Prime Minister and the House for your false characterisation and misleading Parliament."

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But Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Ashworth tweeted: "That's the sound of Oliver scraping a barrel…"

This week, Tory MP and former chief whip Mark Harper said he had submitted a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson to the chairman of the backbench group the 1922 Committee, following the PM's fine.

Another Tory MP, Craig Whittaker, called for Mr Johnson to refer himself to an investigation to put an end to the Partygate affair.

Mr Johnson said: "I think the best thing is if the investigation is concluded. There's a police investigation that has not concluded.

"We have to wait for that and then for Sue Gray to have her final say."

A Government spokesperson said: "The Government has tabled an amendment to Labour's motion which says that consideration of this matter should take place after the conclusion of the police investigation, and the publication of the Cabinet Office report, allowing MPs to have all the facts at their disposal."

A Labour source said: "Tory whips obviously knew that they couldn't vote this down. They clearly haven't learnt a thing from the mess they got into over Owen Paterson.

"Boris Johnson is trying to rig the rules to deflect from his own law breaking. Any Tory MP who votes for this is voting for a cover up."