Boris Johnson cannot escape questions over partygate as he flies to India

Politics

If the prime minister was feeling bruised or laid low over the storm that has been building over his fine for breaking COVID-19 regulations, the attempt by MPs to investigate his conduct and the prospect of more fines from other events he attended, he did a very good job of disguising it as he bounded down the plane on route to India to take questions from journalists. 

I wondered whether, given his current difficulties, the prime minister might cut this particular Q&A session with journalists short.

Instead, he did quite the opposite, taking questions for 30 minutes from every single reporter on the plane, and in good spirit too.

But, however much he wanted to focus on his hopes of striking a trade deal by the end of this year and the deep ties between our two nations’ peoples, he cannot escape questions over being fined for breaking the laws he set and his political future.

What he also made clear, as much in his breezy and upbeat manner as in his words, is that he has no intention of letting partygate weigh on his conscience or force him from office.

When I asked the prime minister if there were any circumstances at all – such as more fines – in which he might consider offering his resignation, Mr Johnson said he did not want to speculate and instead want to get on with the job.

When I pressed him again on whether there were any circumstances in which he might resign, he tried to make light of it, saying this: “Not a lot springs to mind at the moment Beth, but if you wanted to sketch some out, I’m sure you could entertain viewers with some imaginary circumstances, I don’t propose to go into them. I can’t think of them right now.”

More on Boris Johnson

Politics Hub: Prospect of another partygate inquiry looms

Instead, the prime minister said he “of course” intended to fight the next election and had no intention of calling a confidence vote in himself, as suggested by one of his own MPs, Craig Whittaker, in an attempt to settle the matter (if he wins that vote – as his MPs expect – the party could not call another vote in him for a year).

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Mr Blackford added that it the prime minister was past his sell by date

He even went so far as to suggest on the flight to India to me that the entire scandal into parties during lockdown at Downing Street did not matter.

“I think politics has taught me one thing – that you’re better off talking about and focusing on the things that matter, the things that make a real difference to the electorate and not about politicians themselves,” he said.

Flying at 35,000ft, Mr Johnson clearly seems to think the political difficulties and public anger around his own personal conduct and that of many members of his staff will not drag him down.

The strategy he is deploying is well worn, play for time – wait for the Sue Gray report, wait for the Metropolitan Police investigation – while trying to shift the agenda to other areas (the Rwanda refugee plan last week and an India trade trip this week), and minimise the seriousness of the situation.

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Mr Johnson was in good spirits as he boarded the plane today

But as he touches down in India on Thursday, he will be back down to earth in another way too with those domestic woes rumbling on thousands of miles away.

Many of his MPs are grumpy already and may well be further irritated, even angered, by the prime minister’s “humble” apology being followed by his attempts to suggest voters care about other things when polling suggests otherwise.

There will be a vote too in the House of Commons on whether to investigate the prime minister.

Read more: All you need to know about the Met Police’s investigation

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The government has laid a crafty amendment which kicks any vote on whether Mr Johnson should be referred to the privileges committee down the road, and almost certainly past the local elections.

But the spectacle of even having this vote over the holder of the most senior position in our land is deeply unedifying.

However far away he flies or tries to distract from problems at home, the scandal in which he is deeply embroiled will follow and is far from over.

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