Britain’s opposition leader has appealed to Conservative MPs to put Boris Johnson before an inquiry over his Partygate conduct and “restore decency”.
Sir Keir Starmer attempted to persuade Tory defectors to vote for a parliamentary investigation into whether the prime minister misled the House of Commons when he denied knowledge of lockdown parties in Downing Street.
A motion will be debated on Thursday in which the opposition hopes there will be enough rebels to pass a vote for the Privileges Committee to investigate whether the prime minister’s comments amounted “to a contempt of the House”.
Mr Johnson told MPs in December that he was unaware of parties being held in Downing Street, events that were banned under coronavirus lockdown rules. But after his fine by police for breaching the rules over his birthday party held in the Cabinet Room in June 2020, the prime minister is facing another severe examination of his leadership.
“Tomorrow’s vote is an important step to restoring decency, honesty and integrity into our politics,” a statement from Mr Starmer said.
He urged Conservative MPs “to do the right thing”, otherwise they would damage their own reputation by showing “it was one rule for the public and another for this government”.
The Labour leader had attempted to put pile more pressure on his Conservative rival during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday. Mr Johnson gave a combative display, contrasting with the contrition shown on Tuesday evening with his “wholehearted apology” for Partygate.
Given that a number of officials and a government minister had resigned over lockdown breaches, Mr Starmer asked if “everybody else's actions have consequences except his own”.
Mr Johnson struck back, suggesting Mr Starmer was stuck in a “Doctor Who time warp” because “we had this conversation yesterday”.
Mr Johnson repeated that he “bitterly regrets” his actions for which he had apologised but insisted it was time for the government “get on” with addressing issues such as the energy crisis and the war in Ukraine.
But a hint that Mr Johnson is concerned he might be fined for other parties – he is potentially under investigation for six – came after an opposition MP asked if he would support a bill to ban politicians from lying.
“It is well known that the rules demand that we tell the truth in this House and that's what we all try to do,” he responded.
Mr Johnson also strongly denied criticising the BBC over its Ukraine coverage but did fail to reject allegations that he had accused the Church of England of being more outspoken over the Rwanda deportation plan that it had been towards Russia.
The prime minister will be absent from Thursday's vote as he is flying to India for a tour that includes a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.