Boris Johnson has said he intends to fight the next general election as Conservative Party leader as he faces persistent pressure over his leadership due to the ongoing partygate row.
Speaking to reporters on the plane as he embarks on a two-day trip to India, the prime minister said that he does not intend to offer his resignation over the Metropolitan Police investigation into lockdown-busting events that occurred in Downing Street and across Whitehall, or put himself forward for a confidence vote.
It comes as the government is calling for a vote on a parliamentary investigation into whether Mr Johnson misled Parliament over partygate to be delayed until the police inquiry has concluded and the Sue Gray report has been published.
MPs were due to take part in a crunch vote on Thursday as to whether they believe the Privileges Committee should be asked to consider whether the PM’s conduct amounts to contempt of Parliament, following a motion tabled by leading figures from seven opposition parties including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.
Govt call for delay into possible probe of PM’s conduct
But on Wednesday evening, the government tabled an amendment to the Labour-led motion stating that the vote on the investigation itself should not take place until after the police investigation has concluded and the Sue Gray report has been published.
This will allow MPs “to have all the facts at their disposal” when they make a decision, it said.
It is understood that all Tory MPs will be whipped to support the amendment, which could postpone a vote on Mr Johnson’s conduct for months.
There is likely to be a heated debate on the matter tomorrow in the Commons, as the government’s amendment could mean a vote is held on Thursday to say the ‘real’ vote on the PM’s conduct should be held later – after both the Met Police investigation and Sue Gray’s report are finalised.
Meanwhile, away from Westminster and on his way to India, the PM was asked by reporters whether there are any circumstances under which he would resign.
“Not a lot springs to mind at the moment, 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,” he said.
Probed on whether he may put himself forward for a confidence vote just to end the matter, the PM replied: “The best thing to do for the people, for Parliament, is to get on and focus on the things we were elected to do.”
PM in India as MPs debate whether he misled Parliament
Pressed further, he continued: “I think politics has taught me one thing which is that you’re better off talking and focussing on the things that matter and the things that make a real difference to the electorate, and not about politicians themselves.”
Asked whether partygate doesn’t matter, Mr Johnson said: “You’re better off talking about things other than politicians themselves.”
Put to him that he may be missing a big day in Westminster tomorrow while in India, the PM said: “I’m focused on jobs, growth and a fantastic partnership with India.”
The PM – alongside his wife Carrie Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak – has already received one fixed-penalty notice for attending his birthday party in the Cabinet Room in June 2020, but he is also thought to have been at other gatherings under investigation by Scotland Yard.
Making a statement in the Commons on Tuesday, Mr Johnson repeatedly apologised to MPs but insisted he had not believed the gathering to mark his 56th birthday had violated his own government’s COVID regulations which were in place at the time.
PM received fine for birthday event
Prior to the government tabling an amendment to their motion, opposition leaders including Sir Keir had urged Conservatives MPs not to block the investigation into Mr Johnson’s conduct.
The original opposition motion stated that the PM misled the House on at least four occasions:
• On 1 December 2021, Mr Johnson told MPs “that all guidance was followed in Number 10”
• On 8 December 2021, the prime minister told the Commons: “I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no COVID rules were broken”
• Also on 8 December 2021, he said: “I am sickened myself and furious about that, but I repeat what I have said to him: I have been repeatedly assured that the rules were not broken”
• Finally on the same date: “The guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times”
Ministers who deliberately mislead the House are expected to quit
The Privileges Committee – which would carry out any possible investigation – has powers to investigate whether Mr Johnson misled Parliament which include the ability to compel the release of reports, documents and photos linked to partygate.
It is unclear what penalties the PM could face if the committee were to find that he did mislead the House, however the ministerial code explicitly states that ministers who deliberately mislead the House are expected to quit.
The PM himself will not take part in any possible Commons vote tomorrow on his conduct as he will be in India for talks with Prime Minister Modi on economic, security and defence collaboration.
India relies heavily on Moscow for arms imports and has abstained in a series of votes in the United Nations over the invasion.
Last month, Britain’s Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan admitted she is uncomfortable about India “sitting on the fence” over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.