Boris Johnson Allies Blame Whips For Chaos Over Partygate Probe Vote
The Conservative whips’ office is facing blame for Thursday’s botched attempt to delay a vote on referring Boris Johnson to parliament’s privileges committee, PoliticsHome understands.
Conservative party sources say it was wrong for MPs to be required to attend the Commons on Thursday to support a government amendment to Labour's motion calling on Johnson to be investigated by the privileges committee, when they could have been campaigning in constituencies, only for it to be pulled at the last minute anyway.
On Wednesday evening, the government tabled an amendment to derail Labour's motion. It stipulated that any vote for a probe must not take place until the conclusion of the Met Police investigation into parties held in Downing Street and Whitehall during lockdown, and after the publication of the full Sue Gray report.
But in a dramatic U-turn on Thursday morning, deputy chief whip Chris Pincher confirmed the amendment would be scrapped and the vote would not be whipped.
Conservative MPs were informed they could leave Parliament after all, with only a handful choosing to remain in the Commons to contribute to the motion debate, which ended with a unanimous vote in its favour.
Making matters worse for government, the standout contributions from Tory MPs who did remain came from influential former minister Steve Baker and Public Accounts Committee and Constitutional Affairs chair William Wragg, who told the Commons that Johnson no longer has their confidence to lead the country.
There has been widespread acknowledgement among MPs and government insiders that whips initially underestimated the scale of dissent in the party, including the number of MPs planning to rebel against government by abstaining, should the amendment have remained.
Prior to the vote taking place, some Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPS) confided to whips that they did not feel comfortable voting with government on the matter.
But Conservative sources and government insiders who are supportive of the Prime Minister have told PoliticsHome they believed the whips made a serious error in keeping MPs in Westminster in the first place.
“What’s frustrating for lots of MPs is that the whips kept them in London on a Thursday, marched them up to the top of the hill, but then it was all for nothing,” a government source said.
With local elections only two weeks away, the insider felt that MPs in marginal seats in particular were given “scant regard” by the whips.
“It’s no coincidence that we’re starting to see this disregard for marginal colleagues," they continued.
"Some of us remember this from the same senior whips when they served in Theresa May’s government.”
A separate source told PoliticsHome they felt the whips had made a “silly decision” by giving MPs a free vote.
“[They] should have whipped for the amendment to delay until all reports – police and Gray – are concluded,” they said.
There was also some feeling that Boris Johnson should simply have referred himself to the privileges committee, rather than only doing so if forced by a Commons vote.
"There’s a Tory majority on it and then it would’ve been fine’," one party insider told PoliticsHome.
The original House of Commons Business set to take place on Thursday included Lords Amendments on the Judicial Review and Courts Bill and a backbench debate on Childhood Cancers.
The debates were replaced by a motion proposed by opposition parties and selected by the Speaker.
Due to Easter, the House of Commons will only sit 7 days in April.
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