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Prime Minister Sunak to skip damning report debate on partygate scandal, Johnson’s allies divided

PRIME MINISTER Rishi Sunak is reportedly planning to skip a debate on a damning report that found his predecessor, Boris Johnson, guilty of lying about the partygate scandal. This decision comes as anger over the scandal resurfaces following the release of a new video. Scotland Yard is currently reviewing footage from a Christmas gathering in 2020 at the Conservative Party headquarters. In addition to Sunak, Michael Gove, the Levelling up secretary, who has already apologised for the video showing Tory staff dancing and joking about Covid restrictions, will also abstain from the vote.

Gove stated that it is up to each individual MP to decide their own course of action regarding the committee’s findings, leaving room for other Conservatives to potentially avoid casting a ballot. The decision on whether the vote on the report will take place on Monday, incidentally the former prime minister’s birthday, partially depends on how many loyalists of Boris Johnson choose to oppose the report. Although Johnson himself urged his allies not to oppose it, arguing that the sanctions have no practical effect, critics argue that the support for him would have been low anyway.

Tory MPs will have a free vote on the matter, but those who back the motion could face challenges from their local parties to remain as candidates in the next election. Senior backbencher Bill Cash expressed his intention to vote against the findings, citing the former prime minister’s “historic achievements” in an article for the Sunday Telegraph. However, with at least three potentially damaging by-elections looming following the resignations of Johnson, Nigel Adams, and David Warburton, many MPs may decide to focus on campaigning instead of attending the vote on Monday.

No. 10 has not confirmed whether Prime Minister Sunak will support the report, but he is scheduled to host a foreign leader in Downing Street on Monday, which could provide him with an excuse not to participate. According to The Times and The Telegraph newspapers, it is expected that Sunak will choose not to cast a vote on the committee’s findings.

The cross-party group of MPs released a scathing 108-page report recommending a 90-day suspension for Johnson’s “repeated contempts” of Parliament if he had not preemptively resigned. The report also suggests denying him the parliamentary pass typically given to former MPs. Johnson dismissed the committee’s findings, comparing it to a “kangaroo court” and accusing it of bias, which ultimately led to a recommendation of a harsher sanction against him.

If the report is not opposed, it could be easily accepted by the House of Commons. The sanctions proposed by the committee, which is dominated by Tories, are expected to pass regardless, with only a small group of Johnson loyalists likely to oppose the report’s findings.

The debate over the report comes after the Sunday Mirror obtained a video showing Conservative staff dancing and joking about Covid restrictions during the height of the pandemic. This footage, which was captured when indoor socializing was prohibited and people were separated from their loved ones, poses an additional setback to Sunak’s efforts to distance himself from his predecessor’s legacy. The opposition parties have renewed their accusations that the Prime Minister is “weak” for not intervening in Johnson’s resignation honors.

Two individuals who attended the gathering, former London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey and Tory aide Ben Mallet, were subsequently awarded a peerage and an OBE, respectively. Gove defended their honours, stating that outgoing prime ministers are allowed to make such appointments according to the rules. The Metropolitan Police, which previously investigated the event and claimed there was insufficient evidence to disprove the attendees’ version of events, is now reviewing the video footage. A police spokesperson confirmed that they are considering the video.

Following the unauthorised event, Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) took “formal disciplinary action” against four staff members who were seconded to Bailey’s mayoral campaign. Bailey reportedly left the gathering before the video was taken and has previously apologized for his involvement.

Video courtesy of the The Mirror, Guardian via Youtube