Rishi Sunak has been challenged to “show leadership” and not duck a vote on a report which found Boris Johnson lied to Parliament over lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street.
The Prime Minister has refused to say whether he will take part if there is a vote on the Privileges Committee report on his predecessor’s conduct.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Sunak should “show us where he stands” on the issue after the cross-party committee concluded that Mr Johnson should have faced a 90-day suspension for misleading the House and being complicit in a campaign of intimidation against the panel investigating him.
The ex-premier quit the Commons before the committee delivered its recommendations, which also include banning him from receiving the pass to access Parliament which is usually available to former MPs.
Mr Sunak claimed his reticence about giving his verdict on the report’s conclusions was because “I wouldn’t want to influence anyone in advance of that vote”.
But publicly backing the report and its sanctions could risk deepening the Tory civil war between Johnson loyalists and his own administration.
The Prime Minister told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “This committee was established under the former prime minister. It commanded the confidence of the House at the time and I’m sure that they have done their work thoroughly and I respect them for that.
“This is a matter for the House rather than the Government, that’s an important distinction and that is why I wouldn’t want to influence anyone in advance of that vote.
“It will be up to each and every individual MP to make a decision of what they want to do when the time comes, it’s important the Government doesn’t get involved in that because it is a matter for parliament and members as individuals, not as members as Government.”
Passed on a nod
It is not clear whether there ultimately will be a vote on the conclusions of the report, which could go through on the nod unless there are objections from Mr Johnson’s supporters.
The former prime minister was urging his allies not to oppose it, arguing the sanctions have no practical effect, although critics argue the level of support shown for him would have been very low anyway.
Tory MPs will be given a free vote, but allies of Mr Johnson warned they could face battles with their local parties to remain as candidates at the next election if they back the motion.
Labour leader Sir Keir told Good Morning Britain the Prime Minister should participate if there is a Commons vote, saying: “We need to know where Rishi Sunak stands on this.
“He should show leadership, come along, get in the lobby and show us where he stands on this.”
Swedish prime minister
Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson is visiting the UK and his office said he would hold talks with Mr Sunak – something which could give the Tory leader an excuse to avoid any vote.
The motion on the Privileges Committee’s findings comes as Scotland Yard is “considering” the footage from a 2020 Christmas gathering at Conservative Party headquarters.
The Sunday Mirror obtained a video appearing to show Conservative staff dancing and joking about Covid restrictions at the height of the pandemic.
The footage of the event, which happened when indoor socialising was banned and people across the country were separated from family and friends, poses a further setback to Mr Sunak’s efforts to move on from his predecessor-but-one’s legacy.
It has also renewed accusations from opposition parties that the Prime Minister is “weak” for not intervening over Mr Johnson’s resignation honours.
Both former London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey and Tory aide Ben Mallet – who were handed a peerage and an OBE, respectively – attended the gathering.
Cabinet Minister Michael Gove told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg the pair should not be stripped of their honours because rules allow outgoing prime ministers to make such appointments.
But former justice secretary Sir Robert Buckland told Times Radio they should consider declining the honours.
The Metropolitan Police, which previously investigated the gathering and claimed there was “insufficient evidence to disprove the version of events provided by attendees”, has said it is looking at the video.
A spokesperson for the force said: “We are aware of the footage and are considering it.”
CCHQ said “formal disciplinary action” was taken against four staff members, who were seconded to Mr Bailey’s mayoral campaign, over the “unauthorised” event.
Mr Bailey had reportedly left the gathering when the video was taken and has previously apologised for his involvement.