British lawmakers on Thursday ordered a parliamentary inquiry into Prime Minister Boris Johnson for allegedly lying about breaching coronavirus restrictions by attending unlawful gatherings during the pandemic.
The move, endorsed by cries of ‘yes’ and without a formal vote in the House of Commons, means Parliament’s Privileges Committee will investigate whether Johnson knowingly misled Parliament – historically a resignation offense if she is proven.
The move puts more pressure on a Tory PM whose grip on power has been shaken by claims he flouted the pandemic rules he imposed on his country and then failed to recognize it Many times.
The opposition Labor Party called on the House of Commons to vote. Ministers found guilty of knowingly misleading Parliament must generally resign.
Labor leader Keir Starmer said his measure was aimed at upholding “the simple principle that honesty, integrity and truth are important in our politics”.
“It’s a British principle…that guides members of all political parties in this House,” Starmer said. “But it is a principle under attack.”
Johnson allowed to vote freely
Johnson’s Tories have a substantial majority in parliament, but many lawmakers are uncomfortable with the prime minister’s behavior and backed the opposition’s move. The government initially said it would order Tory lawmakers to oppose Labor’s motion, but then backtracked on party concern and gave them a free vote.
“The simple truth is this: he lied to avoid getting caught, and once he got caught he lied again,” said Scottish National Party MP Ian Blackford in the House of Commons.
Usually, lawmakers are prohibited from accusing each other of lying, but Blackford was not reprimanded by the president.
Johnson did not attend the vote over a scandal that rocked his leadership of the country and the Conservative Party. He was more than 6,400 kilometers away in India, insisting he wanted to “get to work” to lead the country.
Johnson again denied knowingly misleading parliament and insisted he would lead the Tories in the next national election, due by 2024.
“I have absolutely nothing, frankly, to hide,” Johnson told Sky News during his visit to the western Indian state of Gujarat. “I want to continue the work for which I was elected.”
Johnson was fined 50 pounds (C$80) by police last week for attending his own birthday party in his office in June 2020, when people in Britain were not allowed to meet with friends and family, or even to visit dying relatives. Johnson is the first British prime minister to break the law while in office.
Johnson’s shifting defense – initially saying there were no unlawful assemblies, then claiming it ‘didn’t occur to me’ that the birthday event was a party – sparked the derision and indignation of opponents, who called on him to resign.
Conservatives put on the spot
A growing number of conservatives are uncomfortable defending a leader who broke the rules he imposed on the country. A few have openly called on Johnson to leave, and the number is growing. Others are waiting to see if public anger translates into Conservative losses in the May 5 local election.
“It’s utterly depressing to be asked to defend the indefensible,” said Conservative lawmaker William Wragg. “Every time a part of us withers away.”
Lawmaker Steve Baker, thus far a top supporter, said Johnson “should be long gone” for breaking “the letter and the spirit” of the rules.
“I will definitely vote for this motion,” he said. “But really, the Prime Minister should just know the concert is over.”
The Privileges Committee inquiry will not begin until the twin police and civil service inquiries into the “partygate” are complete.
Senior civil servant Sue Gray is investigating 16 events, including ‘bring your own booze’ office parties and ‘wine Fridays’ at Johnson’s office at 10 Downing St. and other government buildings . Police are investigating a dozen events and have so far imposed at least 50 fines, including those on Johnson, his wife, Carrie, and Treasury chief Rishi Sunak. Johnson could still face further police fines.
Johnson and his allies argue it would be unwise for the country to change leaders now amid war in Ukraine and pressure on the cost of living caused by soaring energy and food prices .