Boris Johnson vows to fight on to next election as Tories given free vote on Partygate

21 April 2022, 08:16 | Updated: 21 April 2022, 12:33

Tory MPs will get a free vote on whether to investigate claims Boris Johnson lied to Parliament after a U-turn whilst the PM is in India
Tory MPs will get a free vote on whether to investigate claims Boris Johnson lied to Parliament after a U-turn whilst the PM is in India. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Tory MPs will get a free vote on whether to investigate claims Boris Johnson lied to Parliament after a U-turn.

Instead of being whipped to defend the Prime Minister, Tory MPs will get a free vote - raising the chances of an investigation into whether he misled parliament being triggered.

Commons Leader Mark Spencer said: "The prime minister has indicated the that he is keen for the House to decide on the business later today.

"The vote on the unamended house business will be a free vote to all Conservative MPs."

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle urged MPs to temper their language during the debate.

He said: "Whilst it is perfectly in order for honourable members to question the veracity of the Prime Minister's responses to the House cited in the motion, it is not in order to challenge more generally the truthfulness of the Prime Minister or any other honourable or right honourable member.

"Good temper, moderation must be maintained in parliamentary language."

A senior Government source said Boris Johnson was "happy to face" a parliamentary inquiry after Tory MPs were granted a free vote on whether he should.

The source said: "The Prime Minister has always been clear that he's happy to face whatever inquiries Parliament sees fit and is happy for the House to decide how it wishes to proceed today and therefore will not be whipping Conservative MPs.

"They are free to vote according to how they believe we should move forward on this.

"We tabled an amendment last night because we wanted to be explicit about ensuring Sue Gray is able to complete and publish her report without any further delay, as well as allow the Metropolitan Police to conclude their investigations.

"We now recognise that - in practice - this is almost certainly likely to be the case and therefore we are happy for the Labour motion to go through, if that is the will of the House."

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said it was "humiliating" that Tory MPs were facing pressure to vote against launching an inquiry.

Speaking in the Commons this morning she said: "This is humiliating for Conservative MPs who were being pressured to vote for the Government's cover-up amendment.

"The Government knew they couldn't win this, the Prime Minister is bang to rights.

"Tory MPs should do the right thing, respect the sacrifices that their constituents made during the pandemic, and vote in the national interest."

Downing Street has said the Government will not be pushing its amendment to a vote as it was now clear the Privileges

Committee would not begin its investigation into Boris Johnson's conduct in the Commons until after the Sue Gray report is published.

A No 10 spokesman said: "We are now content that any parliamentary process will take place both after the Met investigation and the Sue Gray report is published, which wasn't specifically included in the Opposition motion."

Boris Johnson touched down this morning on his official India trip today after a failed attempt to delay a vote on a probe into whether he misled Parliament over partygate.

The PM tried to avoid discussing partygate on the flight to Gujarat, as he vowed to fight the next election no matter how many times he is fined.

Asked by reporters on the plane to India whether he will fight the next election, the Prime Minister replied, “Of course.”

Pressed if there were any circumstances where he could resign, he said: “Not a lot springs to mind at the moment.”

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi hit out at Labour over the attempt to launch a parliamentary investigation into Boris Johnson's conduct.

He told Nick Ferrari at Breakfast on LBC this morning: "My worry for the Labour Party is they are playing petty politics when we have got a global battle against inflation, when we have got to make sure that the six million backlog in the NHS is dealt with, when we're dealing with (Vladimir) Putin and the Ukraine."

The Government's amendment, delaying any decision on a Privileges Committee investigation, was "the right thing to do", he said.

"Playing petty politics with this is wrong, due process is right. I will be voting for the amendment because I think that is the right thing to do."

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

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits Mahatma Gandhi's Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad
Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits Mahatma Gandhi's Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad. Picture: Alamy

This will allow MPs "to have all the facts at their disposal" when they make a decision, it said.

It is understood that all Tory MPs are being whipped to support the amendment.

Meanwhile the PM touched down in Ahmedabad to begin his two-day visit to India. He was greeted at the airfield by Gujarati chief minister Bhupendrabhai Patel before being handed a series of bouquets of red flowers.

Organised displays to welcome him lined the start of his convoy's route in Ahmedabad.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives at Sarda Vallabhbhai Patel International airport in Ahmedabad
Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives at Sarda Vallabhbhai Patel International airport in Ahmedabad. Picture: Alamy

Huge portraits of the Prime Minister had been put up beside assembled crowds, who waved flags, danced and played music.

Mr Johnson aims to seal new collaborations on defence and green energy in India and there will be talks on reducing the country's dependence on Russian fossil fuels and military equipment.

His trip takes place amid the tumult caused by Mr Johnson being fined by police for breaching his own coronavirus laws with his 56th birthday celebration in 2020.

In Delhi, Mr Johnson is expected to encourage Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to loosen ties with Vladimir Putin's Russia in response to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

But No 10 has been cautious to stress he will not seek to "lecture" Mr Modi, despite concerns that the Indian leader has not been strong enough in condemning the war.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We will be looking to secure new partnerships on trade, technology and defence on the visit that will include significant new investment on jobs announcements and science partnership.

"In Delhi we'll be announcing a new collaboration on defence and green energy."

Mr Johnson was determined to push on with the trip despite the Commons vote and slowly increasing calls from his own Tory MPs for his resignation.

His plans to visit have twice been cancelled, first over the UK's winter wave of Covid infections and then in April last year in response to a new variant hitting India.

The trip is not directly linked to the Ukraine crisis, but Mr Johnson's spokesman said it "will of course be a topic of discussion".

Downing Street expressed an ambition that a post-Brexit free trade deal with one of the world's largest economies could be brokered this year, but did not seem overly confident.

The official spokesman said: "We don't want to sacrifice quality for speed and our ambition is to reach it by the end of the year, but we recognise negotiations can take longer if you're seeking to secure the best possible deal for both sides."

He said the deal needs to be "fair" and "reciprocal" while being consistent with the points-based immigration system launched after the EU departure.

Asked if he was ruling out reducing visa fees for those in India or a working holiday agreement for its young people, the spokesman said: "I'm conscious that I can't get too much into the detail of ongoing negotiations.

"The point I'm trying to make is immigration is not routinely a formal part of trade talks and our broad position on this is that any agreement will have to be consistent with a points-based immigration system."