Sun, 19 May 2024

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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Tory MPs Say There's Not Much Chance Of A Mass Rebellion Over Partygate Vote

4 min read

Conservatives are playing down the prospect of a large rebellion on a vote on whether Boris Johnson should face an investigation into claims he misled parliament over parties held in Downing Street and Whitehall during lockdown.

On Thursday MPs will vote on a Labour motion seeking to force the Prime Minister to be referred to the Commons privileges committee once the Metropolitan Police completes Operation Hillman, its investigation into partygate. 

The Met's ongoing inquiry has already resulted in 50 Fixed Penalty Notices being issued to those involved, including Johnson, his wife Carrie, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

Moderate Tory MPs spent much of Wednesday afternoon restless to see what, if any, amendments the planned to table to the motion before finalising how they intend to vote. 

By evening an amendment was published, its key detail stipulating any vote on an investigation by the privileges committee into the Prime Minister can only take place after the Met Police and Sue Gray complete their relevant inquires.

While most Tory MPs were not expected to vote against the government, there was some speculation that they could avoid voting for the Prime Minister to swerve scrutiny of his statements to parliament by abstaining on the motion. 

But the likelihood of a sizable number of backbenchers abstaining on the vote, which would indicate a lack of confidence in the Prime Minister, is looking slim, according to MPs and party insiders PoliticsHome spoke to on Wednesday. 

While one Conservative MP elected in 2019 said tomorrow's vote was "deeply embarrassing" for Johnson and expressed frustration that the saga continued to distract from the business of government, they predicted that the Prime Minister would emerge from tomorrow's vote unscathed. 

They believed the true danger zone for government lies further down the line when Sue Gray, a senior civil servant tasked with investigating parties held in Whitehall and Downing Street during lockdown, delivers her findings in full. 

A former Cabinet minister also doubted there would be a large number of abstentions. 

“Colleagues aren’t in panic mode about it," they told PoliticsHome. 

“It doesn’t feel like the eve before the Owen Paterson vote when there was loads of chatter on the WhatsApp groups and people going around saying how crackers it was. 

“There’s a feeling of colleagues holding their noses and taking one for the team on this occasion.”

Inside the pro-Johnson camp, insiders expressed confidence that Tory backbenchers will support their leader. 

“Things are bad and it’s a sorry state of affairs,” one Conservative source remarked.

“With that said, the party seem remarkably bullish and united. We all get awfully excited about political weeks like these, yet time and time over they are little more than damp squibs.”

PoliticsHome understands a sizeable number of MPs formerly sceptical of Johnson, some publicly and others privately, have decided tomorrow is not the day to stage further protests against his leadership. 

"The silent majority seem to be in a pretty prosaic place,” one Conservative source remarked. 

“They’re certainly not pushing to get rid of him – partly because they don’t see anyone there to replace him – and so there’s no point causing a fuss tomorrow. 

“There’s also a bit of frustration with those colleagues who are all too eager to come and sound off on both sides of the argument." 

Another Tory insider echoed this sentiment. “No one is in the mood to have a fight about this, no one can really be arsed," they said. 

“Everyone would rather it wasn’t happening and more to the point there’s a general mood the conversation has moved on.”

But a small number of Tory MPs have publicly declared their intention to abstain, including Sir Charles Walker, who is also vice chairman of the 1922 backbench committee.

Explaining his decision to abstain rather than vote in favour of the motion, Walker told the BBC: “As much as I am deeply annoyed at what went on in Number 10, I am also not in a position where I have much goodwill towards a Labour Party who, in my view, failed to advance any form of arguments or raise any of its own concerns about the consequences of a 20-month lockdown.”

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