MPs are voting today on whether to refer Prime Minister Boris Johnson to an investigation by the Privileges Committee.
Asked about the whipping arrangements for Thursday afternoon’s business, Commons leader Mark Spencer said: “The Prime Minister has indicated he’s keen for the House to decide on the business later today.
“The vote on the unamended House business will be a free vote to all Conservative MPs and that’ll be the case this afternoon.”
The move is unlikely to phase the Prime Minister, as he is “happy to face” an inquiry.
Boris Johnson in the Commons UK PARLIAMENT/JESSICA TAYLOR
A source said: “The Prime Minister has always been clear that he’s happy to face whatever inquiries Parliament sees fit and is happy for the House to decide how it wishes to proceed today and therefore will not be whipping Conservative MPs.
“They are free to vote according to how they believe we should move forward on this.
“We tabled an amendment last night because we wanted to be explicit about ensuring Sue Gray is able to complete and publish her report without any further delay, as well as allow the Metropolitan Police to conclude their investigations.
“We now recognise that – in practice – this is almost certainly likely to be the case and therefore we are happy for the Labour motion to go through, if that is the will of the House.”
Mr Johnson will miss the Commons vote today, because he is on an official visit to India.
Sir Keir Starmer speaking during PMQs yesterday House of Commons
Tory MPs had initially been ordered to back a Government amendment which would defer any decision on referring the matter to the Committee until after the conclusion of the Met Police inquiry.
But in a late U-turn shortly before the debate began, Mr Spencer announced the free vote.
It followed speculation that some Tory MPs were not prepared to back the Government’s attempt to kick the issue into the long grass.
Asked on the first day of his trade mission to India whether he knowingly or unknowingly misled Parliament, Mr Johnson said: “Of course not.”
He added: “I’m very keen for every possible form of scrutiny and the House of Commons can do whatever it wants to do.
“But all I would say is I don’t think that should happen until the investigation is completed.”
A Labour source said any Conservative supporting the Government amendment would be “voting for a cover-up”.
Tories were facing pressure to back the opposition bid for a parliamentary investigation after Mr Johnson was fined by police over a birthday event in 2020.
The Prime Minister has resisted calls to resign and insisted on his flight to Gujarat that “of course” he would fight the next general election.
Pressed on whether there were no circumstances under which he would consider resigning, Mr Johnson told journalists travelling with him: “Not a lot that spring to mind at the moment.
“But if you want to sketch some out I’m sure you could entertain your viewers with some imaginary circumstances in which I might have to resign, but I don’t propose to go into them, I can’t think of them right now.”
Mr Johnson’s aides are braced for him to receive multiple fines, having already been handed one fixed-penalty notice for the gathering on his 56th birthday.
He is thought to have been at six of the 12 events under investigation by Scotland Yard.
Mr Johnson continued: “Politics has taught me one thing which is you’re better off talking and focusing on the things that matter, the things that make a real difference to the electorate and not about politicians themselves.”
Asked if that meant partygate did not matter to the public, he said: “You’re better off talking about things other than politicians themselves, is my view.”