Labour’s motion proposing an investigation into allegations that Boris Johnson misled parliament over his knowledge of and attendance at illegal social gatherings held during the pandemic has been passed unopposed.
The Commons privileges committee will undertake an inquiry into the allegations against the Prime Minister, although its “substantive” work will not begin until after the Metropolitan Police investigation into partygate has concluded.
Closing the debate for Labour this afternoon, Angela Rayner said: “If members opposite choose to stand by this law-breaking Prime Minister, they send a very clear message that they don’t care about their duty to uphold the rule of law.”
The deputy Labour leader argued that those who continue to defend Johnson are “defending the indefensible” and “weakening the pillars of our democracy”.
“Over the last 24 hours, we have seen desperate attempts by the government to delay, distract and duck the scrutiny. They’ve pulled every trick in the book to kick this down the road. But they’ve run out of road… and it’s now decision time,” she told parliament.
She urged MPs to “do the right thing” and back the motion to “respect the sacrifices” people made during the pandemic, to “say that the public were right to follow the rules” and to “defend our parliamentary democracy”.
She added: “The Prime Minister is leading the Conservative Party into the sewer. It’s now up to members opposite to decide whether they follow him.”
Keir Starmer told MPs earlier that the motion sought to “defend the simple principle that honesty, integrity and telling the truth matter in our politics” – a principle he said was “under attack” as a result of the Prime Minister’s actions.
Starmer warned that if the motion did not pass: “We are all complicit in allowing these standards to slip. We’re all complicit in allowing the public to think we’re all the same, nobody tells the truth and there are alternative sets of facts.”
Closing his statement, he said: “If we fail in our duty, the public will not forgive and forget that we have done so, because this will be the parliament that failed.
“Failed to stand up for honesty, integrity and telling the truth in politics. Failed to stand up to a Prime Minister who seeks to turn our good faith against us and failed to stand up for our great democracy.
Johnson was not be present at the debate today as he is on a diplomatic trip to India. The Tories initially proposed an amendment to the motion that would have delayed the decision on whether the committee should investigate until after Sue Gray’s report on partygate had been published.
The government withdrew the amendment earlier today, however. A government 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.”
Conservative MPs also used the debate to criticise Johnson’s behaviour during the pandemic. Tory backbencher Steve Baker said: “The Prime Minister now should be long gone. I will certainly vote for this motion but really the Prime Minister should just know the gig is up.”
Tory chair of the public administration and constitutional affairs committee William Wragg said: “The parliamentary party bears the scars of misjudgments of leadership.
“There can be few colleagues on this side of the House I would contend who are truly enjoying being members of parliament at the moment. It is utterly depressing to be asked to defend the indefensible.”
Tory MPs Steve Brine and Anthony Mangnall both said they would support Labour’s motion, with Mangnall telling MPs: “I do forgive the Prime Minister for making those mistakes but I do not forgive him for misleading the House.”
Johnson and Rishi Sunak both received fines this month for breaching Covid rules. Johnson previously told parliament that all “the guidance was followed” when questioned on the initial allegations. The ministerial code outlines that ministers who knowingly misled parliament “will be expected to offer their resignation”.
After a video was released showing No 10 staff laughing about a party on December 18th 2020, Johnson said he had been “repeatedly assured” that “there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”. Later that day, he said he was “sure that whatever happened, the guidance was followed”.