Labour leader Keir Starmer has warned Conservative MPs that they will pay the political price for Boris Johnson if they block an investigation into his statements on parties in Downing Street.
The House of Commons will vote on Thursday on a Labour motion calling for the privileges committee to establish if the prime minister misled MPs over the lockdown-breaking gatherings in 2020.
Labour has drafted the motion with an eye to depriving Conservatives of grounds to oppose it, making clear that no investigation should start until after the Metropolitan Police investigation into the parties is complete and avoiding the accusation that Mr Johnson deliberately misled parliament.
"We are urging Conservative MPs to do the right thing. To respect the sacrifice that their constituents made during the pandemic. To say that the public were right to follow the rules. And to vote in the national interest not under pressure from the party whips," Sir Keir said.
“The British public knows that the rules were broken in Downing Street. Voting to say otherwise won’t persuade the public that everything was fine but will further damage the reputation of any Conservative MP who is happy to say it was one rule for the public and another for this government. Tomorrow’s vote is an important step to restoring decency, honesty and integrity into our politics.”
Mr Johnson, who is visiting India, will not be present for the debate but he rejected calls for his resignation during prime minister's questions on Wednesday. He refused to apologise for accusing Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby of not being critical enough of Vladimir Putin but he denied making the same accusation about BBC journalists.
“I said nothing of the kind, and I have the highest admiration as a former journalist for what journalists do. I think they do an outstanding job. I think he [Starmer] should withdraw what he just said – it has absolutely no basis or foundation in truth,” he said.
Sir Keir's motion for debate on Thursday is also backed by other opposition leaders, including the SDLP's Colum Eastwood and Alliance's Stephen Farry but not the DUP, who have expressed support for the prime minister.
Labour's Chris Bryant said he would recuse himself as chair of the committee from any investigation into Mr Johnson's statements because of his past comments about the prime minister.
“I am certain that if the house were to refer this matter to the committee, all of us would be entirely diligent in setting aside our personal feelings and allegiances, and discharging our duty to protect the reputation of the house without fear or favour,” he said.
“However, it is also important that the house be seen to proceed fairly without any imputation of unfairness and that the whole house have confidence in the committee of privileges’ proceedings. I have, therefore, decided that if the motion to refer is carried tomorrow, I will recuse myself from any consideration of the matter.”