UK lawmakers are set to order an investigation into Prime Minister Boris Johnson for allegedly lying about breaching coronavirus restrictions by attending unlawful gatherings during the pandemic
The move would put 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 repeatedly failed to recognize it .
The opposition Labor Party has called a vote in the House of Commons which, if passed, would trigger an Oversight Committee investigation into Johnson for allegedly misleading Parliament. 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”.
Johnson’s Tories have a substantial majority in parliament, but many lawmakers are uncomfortable with the prime minister’s behavior and could back the opposition’s move. The government initially said it would order Tory lawmakers to oppose Labor’s motion, but then backtracked in the face of party concern and gave them a free vote, dramatically increasing the odds that the measure is adopted.
Johnson did not attend the vote on a scandal that rocked his leadership of the country and the Conservative Party. He was more than 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometers) away in India, insisting he wanted to “get to work” leading the country.
Johnson was fined 50 pounds ($66) by police last week for attending his own birthday party in his office in June 2020, when people in Britain were barred to meet friends and family, or even to visit dying relatives. Johnson is the first UK prime minister to break the law while in office.
He apologized, but denied knowingly breaking the rules. Johnson’s shifting defense – first saying there were no unlawful assemblies, then saying it ‘didn’t occur to me’ that the birthday event was a party – aroused the derision and indignation of opponents, who called on him to resign.
“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.
A growing number of conservatives are uncomfortable defending a leader who broke the rules he imposed on the country. So far, many have indicated they will wait to see if public anger translates into losses for the party in the May 5 local elections.
A few have openly called on Johnson to leave, and the number is growing.
“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 prominent Johnson supporter, said Johnson “should be long gone” for breaking the “letter and 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.”
If lawmakers vote to send Johnson’s case to the House Privileges Committee, the inquiry will not begin until the twin police and civil service inquiries into ‘partygate’ are completed.
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 so far have issued at least 50 fines, including those for Johnson, his wife Carrie and Treasury chief Rishi Sunak, and Johnson could still face more 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 .
As he flew to India for a two-day visit focused on strengthening economic ties, Johnson again denied knowingly misleading parliament and insisted he would lead the Tories to the next national elections, scheduled for 2024.
He said on board his plane to the western Indian state of Gujarat that there might be “imaginary circumstances under which I might have to resign, but I am not offering to enter it. I can’t think of them right now.