Boris Johnson faces the prospect of a crunch parliamentary vote on Tuesday over whether he misled the House of Commons in relation to the “partygate” scandal after the Metropolitan Police fined the prime minister for breaching Covid rules.
The opposition Labour, Liberal Democrat and the Scottish National parties are in discussions over the best way to force a vote on whether Johnson brought parliament into disrepute when MPs return from the Easter break next week.
Johnson told the house in December three times that “no rules were broken” at the heart of his government. But the Met’s decision to fine the prime minister and the chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed that restrictions were breached.
The prime minister has said he spoke to parliament “in good faith” about the parties. Johnson’s allies have argued there is a difference between “knowingly” and inadvertently misleading MPs, which will be the focus of his address next week.
One senior Downing Street official said the prime minister would deliver a “regular parliamentary statement” on Tuesday in which he is expected to emphasise his belief that he acted in good faith while accepting the police’s judgment.
Johnson has publicly apologised for his “mistake” over attending a surprise birthday party for him in June 2020. “I deeply regret the frustration and anger caused and I am sorry,” he said.
However, opposition MPs are eager to force a vote over whether the prime minister misled the house. One way of doing so would be for MPs to trigger “contempt” proceedings, which could lead to Johnson being found in contempt of parliament.
If such a motion was granted by Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Commons speaker, Conservative MPs would likely be whipped against it. But one senior Labour MP said that even a failed vote could serve a political purpose.
“It would be very useful ahead of local elections in May to get the Tories trooping through the lobby to defend the prime minister,” the MP said. Another senior Liberal Democrat MP said they expected “a significant number” of Tories to abstain, which could “cause the government problems”.
Hannah White, deputy director of the Institute for Government think-tank, said: “The ministerial code requires that if you mislead the house, even inadvertently, you have to set the record straight as soon as possible.”
She added that it would be up to MPs to decide whether Johnson deliberately misled MPs. “They can refer that question to the privileges committee. But it seems unlikely Conservative MPs are going to vote for that.”
The speaker can also force a vote by granting an emergency debate on Johnson’s conduct under the so-called “standing order 24”. Labour could raise an urgent question to bring Johnson to the despatch box.
Hoyle is said to be “cautious” about the politics of the situation. One parliamentary official said the speaker was under pressure to investigate the prime minister’s conduct but could not be seen as “party political”.
If an investigation into potential breaches of the ministerial code by Johnson do take place, he may be forced to refer himself to Lord Christopher Geidt, the independent adviser on ministerial interests.
Kathryn Stone, the independent parliamentary standards commissioner, may also choose to investigate Johnson in relation to the matter.