Rishi Sunak 'to give Tories free vote on Boris Johnson’s future' if he's found to have misled MPs over pandemic parties

18 March 2023, 15:17 | Updated: 18 March 2023, 15:23

Rishi Sunak will give Conservative MPs a free vote on Boris Johnson’s future
Rishi Sunak will give Conservative MPs a free vote on Boris Johnson’s future. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Rishi Sunak is set to give Tory MPs a free vote on Boris Johnson’s future if it is found that he deliberately misled parliament over social gatherings at Downing Street during the pandemic.

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Mr Johnson faces a televised hearing on Wednesday afternoon, whereby he will have to convince seven MPs that he was not in contempt of the Commons when he denied claims over lockdown-breaking parties at No10.

The privileges committee’s verdict would have to be approved by a vote of MPs, and Mr Johnson’s allies are said to be preparing to use the opportunity to proclaim his innocence, according to the Times.

Mr Sunak is understood to have decided that he will not whip MPs to defend Mr Johnson, instead giving them the freedom to make their own decisions.

If the committee finds against the former PM, he may be suspended from the Commons.

A suspension of more than 10 days could mean Mr Johnson’s constituents will be able to force a by-election.

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Sunak and Johnson in 2021
Sunak and Johnson in 2021. Picture: Getty

One Conservative MP told the Times: "If it concludes that Boris is guilty there will be a vote on the floor of the house. It’s a no-win situation.

"If Rishi doesn’t stop Boris from being expelled or suspended then the backstabber narrative continues. It will pose problems with those MPs and red wall voters.

"But at the same time, if he stops him in the blue wall there will be demands for integrity. It will reopen the splits in the party again."

A government source told the paper, "There is no way that we are going to get stuck in the hell that is Owen Paterson again," referencing Mr Johnson's decision to overturn a 30-day suspension given to the former cabinet minister.

He will submit a written statement early next week with unpublished WhatsApp messages among the evidence to support his case.

His evidence could last for up to five hours but his legal team will not be allowed to answer questions on his behalf - only pass notes.

A spokesman for Mr Johnson said: “The privileges committee will vindicate Mr Johnson’s position.

"Despite ten months of work, it has not produced a single piece of evidence that shows Mr Johnson knowingly misled parliament.

"Rather, it will be shown that the evidence supports Mr Johnson’s case."

Mr Sunak said earlier in the week that he saw the investigation as “a matter for parliament and the house”, adding that is was “not right for the government to get involved”.

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