A defiant Boris Johnson will on Tuesday face MPs for the first time since being fined over the “partygate” affair, with allies privately criticizing the Metropolitan Police’s handling of the issue.
The UK prime minister will apologize to MPs but will insist he was not aware he was breaking his own Covid-19 lockdown rules; meanwhile, he will claim that a £ 50 fine pales into insignificance compared to the crisis in Ukraine.
However, opposition MPs want Johnson to face an inquiry into claims he misled parliament over his attendance at lockdown parties and some Tory MPs insist his position remains precarious.
One ally of Johnson insisted “most people” would not consider the prime minister breached the rules by attending an impromptu 56th birthday party – arranged by his wife Carrie – in the cabinet room in June 2020.
A senior government source said he had “no idea” what was guiding the Met Police investigation, adding: “It’s not as if [Johnson] walked into a rave in Ibiza. ”
There was also surprise in Number 10 that Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were fined in relation to the event, but not cabinet secretary Simon Case, who was also there. “It’s a mystery,” the source said.
Johnson will attempt to ride out a storm of cross-party criticism by suggesting the offense was trivial compared to other issues he is dealing with, including the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis and immigration.
But opposition parties are urging Speaker Lindsay Hoyle to give MPs time this week to vote on a motion referring the conduct of Johnson and Sunak to a “contempt” inquiry by MPs.
The Liberal Democrats and Greens have urged Hoyle to allow a vote this week, which would put Conservative MPs in the awkward position of having to publicly endorse Johnson’s conduct.
Sir Keir Starmer, Labor leader, is also weighing up whether to ask Hoyle to allow a vote to refer Johnson and Sunak to the Commons privileges committee to assess whether they misled MPs.
Labor officials said Starmer was hesitating because he felt it might be better to wait until the Met Police concluded their “partygate” probe and the full case against Johnson was in the public domain.
Hoyle will take a view after hearing Johnson’s Commons statement on Tuesday, in which the prime minister will apologize for the lockdown party as part of a broader summary of events over the two-week Easter recess.
That will include a reference to his meeting with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, his briefing of US president Joe Biden on the war, a new government energy strategy and the controversial plan to transport asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Nadine Dorries, culture secretary, said on Twitter: “We were the first country to administer a vaccine – first to offer lethal aid to Ukraine. Zelensky hails Boris Johnson as his chief ally. Yet the consensus of our commentators and some politicians is that uneaten cake is the chief issue before the nation. ”
But many Conservative MPs fear that Johnson’s position could be further undermined in the coming days and that he could be fined for other more serious lockdown breaches.
“He’s not out of the woods,” said one minister, arguing that an alleged party in Johnson’s private flat on November 13 2020 – the night the prime minister sacked Dominic Cummings as his chief adviser – was far more concerning.
Another minister said: “Everyone is a bit nervous that there’s more to come.” Many Tory MPs said they were awaiting the conclusion of the Met Police investigation and the publication of the full report by Sue Gray, a senior civil servant, into the affair.
Local elections on May 5 are seen by many Tory MPs as a key indicator of how damaged Johnson is with the electorate. “The next couple of weeks will be torrid,” said one Tory MP.
Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has been spoken to by police to “remind her of the importance of wearing a face covering when there is a legal requirement to do so”, Police Scotland said, after footage showed her apparently breaching the country’s Covid face mask law.