Tory MPs warned not to allow ‘Owen Paterson-style cover-up’ by blocking Partygate inquiry

Conservative MPs are being warned not to join an “Owen Paterson-style cover-up” by blocking an inquiry into how Boris Johnson misled parliament about the No 10 parties.

Rob Merrick 

A vote on Thursday will seek to send the controversy to the Commons privileges committee, with the power to force the release of reports, documents and photos – and recommend any punishment.

Crucially, the probe would not start until after the police investigation has concluded, to prevent the government arguing it would clash with the Met’s ongoing work.

And it does not accuse Mr Johnson of “deliberately” misleading the Commons – which, under the ministerial code, would require his resignation – again, to make it harder to oppose.

Mr Johnson is expected to order his MPs to defeat the motion, tabled by almost all Opposition parties – and threaten to remove the party whip from any who defy him.

But Labour says it will plaster the names of Tory MPs who block the inquiry across local elections’ leaflets and adverts, warning they will pay the price of standing by the beleaguered prime minister.

It is pointing back to the public anger after last autumn’s “cover-up”, when Mr Johnson attempted to fix anti-sleaze rules to clear his ally Mr Paterson, a former cabinet minister.

“Conservative MPs should reflect on the last time that the government tried to interfere on a privileges investigation, with the Owen Paterson case, and what happened there,” Keir Starmer’s spokesman said.

The motion points to four specific statements by the prime minister whichappear to amount to misleading the House”, which are:

* 1 December 2021 – that “all guidance was followed” in No 10.

* 8 December 2021 – that Mr Johnson had been “repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”.

* 8 December 2021 – that he was “sickened” by the video of his former spokeswoman Allegra Stratton joking about a party, but “I have been repeatedly assured that the rules were not broken”.

* 8 December 2021 – that “the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times”.

The Opposition parties’ argument is that the privileges committee probe is needed to establish whether the Commons was misled – which is not the role of either the Met police, or Sue Gray’s stalled investigation.

Mr Johnson has effectively conceded that it was, by accepting he broke his own Covid rules, having previously denied that any rules were breached.

Sir Keir said urged Tory MPs to vote in favour of “restoring decency, honesty and integrity into our politics”.

“The British public know that the rules were broken in Downing Street,” he said.

Voting to say otherwise won’t persuade the public that everything was fine but will further damage the reputation of any Conservative MP who is happy to say it was one rule for the public and another for this government.”