Boris Johnson has pledged to lead the Tories in the next election and urged people to focus on ‘the things that matter’, ahead of a House of Commons vote on his handling of the partygate scandal.
Johnson will table a “devastating amendment” on Thursday designed to postpone a vote in the House of Commons for several weeks to launch a formal inquiry into allegations that he deliberately misled parliament on the issue.
The amendment argues that MPs should await the conclusion of the Metropolitan Police inquiry into the Downing Street parties – and the full report into the case by civil servant Sue Gray – before holding the vote.
Tory MPs are expected to back the amendment, which would effectively delay any vote to refer the matter to the Commons Privileges Committee until after the May 5 local election.
The committee would assess whether Johnson deliberately misled MPs about his attendance at Downing Street parties – a matter which would put him in contempt of Parliament.
Speaking en route to India, Johnson dodged questions about the scandal. But when asked if he would fight the next election, he replied: “Of course, yes.”
He said he couldn’t foresee a situation where he would consider quitting. “I will try to focus on the work in progress,” he said. “Not much that comes to mind at the moment. I’m not suggesting going.
The prime minister downplayed the partygate scandal. “You better focus on the things that really matter and make a difference to the electorate, rather than the politicians,” he said.
Labor wants MPs to task the House of Commons privileges committee on Thursday with launching an inquiry into whether Johnson told MPs the truth about the lockdown parties.
But Labour’s motion is expected to be defeated due to the government’s majority in the House of Commons, while Tory MPs will be told to support the government’s late-comer amendment.
Johnson last week became the first sitting UK Prime Minister to commit a criminal offense when the Met fined him for breaching coronavirus restrictions by attending a surprise birthday party in Downing Street in June 2020 .
Labour’s parliamentary motion calling for an inquiry by the privileges committee refers to four statements to MPs by Johnson last year when he said no Covid rules had been broken in Downing Street and Whitehall.
On Tuesday, Johnson issued a ‘sincere apology’ to MPs for breaking coronavirus rules by attending the birthday party in June 2020 and acknowledged that ‘people have a right to expect better from their Prime Minister’ .
But he also denied deliberately misleading parliament with his past statements to MPs about the party affair.
The ministerial code stipulates that members of the government who knowingly deceive Parliament must resign.
Johnson will not be in the Commons on Thursday as he is on a two-day visit to India, starting in the Gujarati city of Ahmedabad before heading to New Delhi on Friday.
After Russia invaded Ukraine, efforts by rebel Tory MPs to push for a no-confidence vote against Johnson and a Tory leadership race over the party case lost momentum.
A minister said Johnson was likely safe in the short term. “The bar for changing prime ministers is very high,” he added.
But Tory MPs said the mood within the parliamentary party was fragile due to concerns that Johnson could face further fines for attending Downing Street parties during Covid restrictions and the possibility that the Tories suffer heavy losses in local elections next month.
Meanwhile, Johnson became embroiled in a row with Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, over the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing.
In his Easter Sunday sermon, Welby said the UK program raises “serious ethical questions”, adding that “outsourcing our responsibilities, even to a country that seeks to do well, like Rwanda, is opposite of the nature of God”.
In a private meeting with Tory MPs on Tuesday evening, Johnson said Welby had “misinterpreted” the government’s plan, according to people at the event.
Johnson declined at Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons to withdraw his criticism, telling MPs he was “mildly surprised for the government” by Welby’s comments.
He insisted on his flight to India that he had a “good relationship” with Welby but said sending migrants to Rwanda was “morally the right thing to do”.