Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is coming under increasing pressure to break his silence on the parliamentary report into Boris Johnson’s conduct, as the backlash from Tory MPs worsens and Labor level accusations of weakness.
Sir Keir Starmer, the Labor leader, is set to challenge Sunak to speak out on the House of Commons privileges committee report during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
Sunak insisted ahead of Monday’s vote on the report that he would be wrong to “influence” his colleagues on whether to approve it.
The damning report condemned Johnson for lying to MPs about the party’s unlawful assembly scandal during the coronavirus pandemic, for lying to the committee during its investigation and for complicity in a campaign of abuse and attempted intimidation of the panel investigating it.
The conclusions, which included the recommendation to bar Johnson from having a pass into the Commons, were approved by an overwhelming majority of 347 MPs on Monday, with just seven votes against.
Former Tory Prime Minister Theresa May slammed Sunak during the parliamentary debate on the report, delivering a veiled swipe at the PM for missing the vote, warning it was ‘doubly important’ for Tory MPs to act when one of theirs was found “missing”.
Frustration among Tory MPs at Sunak’s silence on the report’s findings grew on Tuesday after Downing Street said the Prime Minister ‘thanked the committee for their thorough work’ and ‘fully respects the decision of the House’, but insisted the vote was a matter for Parliament. rather than the government.
Sunak blamed a newspaper dispute for missing the vote, but his spokesman declined to state the prime minister’s view of the report or indicate how he would have voted had he been present.
A former cabinet minister, who voted to endorse the report, said: “I am not impressed. It was lucky for him [Sunak] to send a very clear signal beyond the party, to the general public, that things had changed. He chose the party leadership instead. It’s a missed opportunity. »
Another senior Tory MP who voted in favor of the report said: ‘I couldn’t disagree more strongly with Rishi’s handling of it. He should take the lead on this.
Labor also seized on Sunak’s silence, preparing an attack video to be released on Tuesday evening accusing the Prime Minister of “refusing to condemn Boris Johnson’s contempt for the British people”.
A Labor official said the Prime Minister had the opportunity to “put a line in the sand, stand up for democracy and draw a line. Instead, he collapsed because he will not stand up to his party”.
While the majority of Tory MPs stayed away from parliament on Monday, some spooked by threats of de-selection from Johnson’s allies, 118 Tories voted to endorse the report.
They included eight cabinet ministers and at least a dozen other ministers, including several figures widely seen as potential future leadership hopefuls: Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan and Security Minister Tom Tugendhat.
Their decision to back the privileges committee report would bolster any future attempts to cast themselves as candidates with a clean break from the Johnson era.
As Number 10 sought to insist that the saga over Johnson’s party lies to MPs is now a done deal, the row over Johnson’s resignation honors list rumbles on.
Senior Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood has said Shaun Bailey, the former London mayoral candidate, should reconsider the peerage handed to him by Johnson after footage emerged showing his staff partying at the height of the pandemic.
Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride has suggested to the BBC there may be a way to block Bailey’s peerage, depending on the Metropolitan Police’s verdict over the rally of Tory activists. However, only an act of parliament can abolish peerages.
Bailey apologized for the party he attended, but said it was up to “others to decide” whether his peerage should be revoked.