Boris Johnson is not out of the woods

The decision of the Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, to allow a vote on whether the Prime Minister’s breach of lockdown regulations should be referred to the Committee of Privileges is another first in an episode of unprecedented events. Just as Boris Johnson became the only holder of his office to be fined for criminal behaviour, so he is unique in facing a parliamentary inquiry into his actions that could theoretically lead to his suspension as an MP.

The House will be invited to rule on Thursday whether there is a prima facie case that Boris Johnson knowingly misled parliament in denying that parties took place in Downing Street in defiance of the law as it applied at the time. The move was welcomed by the Prime Minister’s critics but unless Mr Johnson wants to have such an inquiry, over which he would have no control, the Tories have a sufficient majority to vote it down.

The House will mostly divide along partisan lines, largely making Mr Johnson’s case that this is less about his integrity and more a political campaign to unseat him. After spending two hours in the chamber apologising “profusely” yesterday, the vote on Thursday will be taken by Mr Johnson as drawing a line under the entire affair, even if he is fined again for other infractions.

He can say parliament has spoken. He won’t even be in the House as he will be leaving for India tomorrow on a postponed visit to further bolster trade and diplomatic ties between the two countries. The Prime Minister said he was “heartily sorry” for his mistake but insisted he had to get on with the task of running the country at a time of international crisis and domestic economic difficulty.

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, accused the Government of using the war in Ukraine and the Rwandan asylum policy as diversionary tactics to draw fire away from the party fines. If they had been issued in January, Mr Johnson may well have been out as a head of steam was building against him.

The former Tory chief whip Mark Harper said Mr Johnson was not worthy of the great office he holds but, judging by the response of most Tory MPs both in the Commons and at a later meeting in Westminster, he is safe for now. They accept the argument that the tensions with Russia require stability. But he is by no means out of the woods, though if truth be told they have been a familiar environment throughout much of his career.

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