Constitutional crisis Peston says Tory MPs defending Boris today could lose their jobs

Boris Johnson ‘has form’ on lying says Stephen Pound

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Boris Johnson is facing accusations from MPs of having “misled Parliament” following new revelations about the Partygate scandal that has dogged his Government since 2021. The embattled Prime Minister addressed the House of Commons on Tuesday with a “full-throated” apology to MPs demanding answers to his conduct during the Covid lockdown of 2020 to 2021, after he was issued a fine by the Met Police for breaking lockdown rules. Today, MPs will vote on whether Mr Johnson should be investigated on whether he misled parliament when he was previously questioned about the partygate scandal – but for those on the PMs side of the house, this may represent an impossible decision, argues Robert Peston.

He said: “If Tory MPs turn up to the Commons to speak in defence of the PM, what are they supposed to say that won’t be used against them in opposition parties’ election leaflets?”

Mr Johnson has abandoned an amendment to the vote which would have delayed the decision to refer the prime minister to the committee after the Metropolitan Police had finished its investigation and a report by senior civil servant Sue Gray had been published.

This may indicate that the government is confident that enough Tory MPs will vote to block the investigation that it will not pass – or that they are happy for the investigation to go ahead.

The crux of the vote is based on when Mr Johnson said “all guidance was followed completely” at Downing Street – but was eventually found to have broken the rules.

MPs aren’t allowed to accuse one another of lying or “misleading Parliament”, as this is considered “unparliamentary language” that infringes on the etiquette demanded of “honourable members”.

But breaking the rules to this extent is a cardinal offence that the Ministerial Code deems a resigning matter.

Labour’s motion does not prejudge whether the PM is guilty of lying to MPs, but instead initiates the proper process to investigate whether he did.

Therefore, for a Tory MP to vote against this process will make them appear to reject proper Parliamentary process, and to deny the partygate allegations to their constituents.

But not to do so would appear to be a serious betrayal of the leader of their party.

Both options would provide ample ammunition for the MPs’ rivals when it comes to local elections in May. 

Should enough of the Tory MPs follow Mr Johnson’s orders, it would appear that his majority in Parliament has blocked proper process to investigate him – which Mr Peston describes as a “constitutional crisis”.

Mr Peston said that former chief whip Andrew Mitchell told him he would be abstaining from the vote, defying the PM, adding that Mr Mitchell believed enough of the other MPs would be doing the same to pass the vote.

Another former chief whip Mark Harper has also publicly announced his letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson after the PM asked his MPs to block the investigation. 54 letters sent in would trigger a no-confidence vote.

He said: “I regret to say that we have a Prime Minister who broke the laws that he told the country they had to follow, hasn’t been straightforward about it and is now going to ask the decent men and women on these benches to defend what I think is indefensible.

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“I’m very sorry to have to say this, but I no longer think he is worthy of the great office that he holds.”

Mr Peston concluded his analysis by highlighting the seriousness of today’s vote, saying: “To be clear what is at stake here is different from and arguably as important as whether Boris Johnson should be forced out of office.

“It is whether the conduct of a prime minister perceived to have broken important rules can be properly and transparently assessed by his peers – as you would expect if there were a functioning constitution in a first-past-the-post parliamentary democracy – when that PM benefits from a big Commons majority.

“It is why it is not hyperbole to describe this impasse as a constitutional crisis.”

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