Dozens of Tory MPs expected to abstain in vote on committee’s Partygate report


Dozens of Tory rightwing MPs are preparing to abstain from voting in the Commons on Monday over the parliamentary investigation that found Boris Johnson deliberately misled MPs, in a sign of support for the former prime minister.

Between 60 and 70 MPs with constituencies in the “red wall” were said to be feeling “incredibly warm” towards Johnson, after he urged his parliamentary supporters not to vote against the committee’s findings.

The senior cabinet minister Michael Gove said on Sunday he disagreed with the outcome of the privileges committee investigation, and that he planned to abstain in the Commons. He said the committee’s recommendation that Johnson be suspended for 90 days over repeated contempts of parliament was “not merited”.

While Johnson cannot serve the penalty because he has quit parliament, the cross-party group of MPs chaired by Labour’s Harriet Harman has recommended that he be banned from holding a pass to access parliament.

Gove said it was not right to reduce the report to a “single badge to pin on Boris Johnson”, as there were “complexities” in it.

Speaking to BBC One’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg show, the levelling up secretary said: “I don’t agree with the conclusion, however, personally … The decision to impose a 90-day penalty is not merited by the evidence that the committee has put forward.”

Many rightwing Tory MPs said their lack of support for the committee’s investigation was based on what they described as an “unnecessarily high and fierce” suspension of Johnson.

One senior rightwing Tory MP told the Guardian: “Ninety days is completely absurd. At least 20 days seemed reasonable and not like it was plucked out of thin air, but 90 days feels as though they were just out to get him.”

Another said many MPs across the Conservative party held Harriet Harman in “high regard”, claiming she was not the reason for their abstention, but that it was the handling of the recommendations by the committee.

In one rightwing Tory WhatsApp group, a “red wall” MP of the 2019 intake was said to have described Johnson as a “top man” who just “wants all of us to be able to move on … I’ve got huge respect for him for that.”

A rightwing Conservative source said: “Johnson has done himself a huge favour by letting colleagues off the hook, without feeling like they have to come out and bat for him in the Commons.

“Since he called off the pressure on them to vote against the motion, there is a bizarre amount of respect, and sudden warmth to Boris, with so much good feeling about his future.

“It seems to me to be a bit of a genius move. It makes his comeback much easier. We could be looking at the middle of a Tory opposition for his return.”

By abstaining, many rightwing Tories feel as though they will be able to silently vote against the motion without being grilled by the media and constituents about why they are backing the former prime minister after the committee concluded he had deliberately misled parliament.

The Tory backbencher Bill Cash wrote in the Sunday Telegraph he would vote against the report, but the former justice secretary Sir Robert Buckland told Times Radio he would endorse it if it came to a division, highlighting the importance of “the overall authority and standing of the House of Commons”.

The sanctions proposed by the Tory-majority committee are expected to pass regardless, with only a relatively small group of Johnson loyalists expected to oppose the report’s findings in the vote.

The former Conservative minister Justine Greening urged the growing number of Tory MPs who were considering abstaining to back the committee’s work. “It would be easier to persuade the public that we have moved on from it if MPs simply went into the House of Commons on Monday and supported the privileges committee report,” she told the BBC.