Picture by Simon Walker / No 10 Downing Street

Sunak set to abstain over partygate report as Starmer calls on PM to ‘show leadership’

The prime minister must “show leadership” by supporting the privileges committee’s report into Boris Johnson, Sir Keir Starmer has said.

The comment comes as MPs are set to debate the findings of the commons privileges committee, which would have seen Boris Johnson face a 90-day ban from the House of Commons for “repeated contempts” of parliament over partygate.

The vote today will be a free vote for Conservative MPs, meaning the party whips will not instruct them which way to vote – or to not vote at all.

It has been widely reported that Mr Sunak will join other ministers, such as Michael Gove, in missing the vote.

A conveniently timed meeting with his Swedish counterpart could see the prime minister otherwise engaged when the commons debate takes place.

Allies of Mr Johnson had warned of consequences, including deselection, for those Conservatives who back the motion.

Speaking this morning, Sir Keir told BBC Breakfast: “I want to see the Prime Minister there when I arrive back in Parliament because he has to show leadership.

“The Prime Minister wants to lead he has to come in and vote in this debate this afternoon to show where he stands on this issue.”

He added: “The idea that the government is having to have a debate about the behaviour of a former prime minister tells you everything that’s wrong with the Tory party, obsessed with themselves, fighting amongst themselves, talking about their bad behaviour”.

Commenting on the separate but related matter on the ex-PMs resignation honours list, Sir Keir Starmer said he would not have his own resignation honours list. 

It would be “very hard to justify”, he explained.

The Labour leader told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Tony Blair didn’t have a resignation list. It’s very hard to justify. If it was reserved for people who had given incredible service, perhaps picking out people who have been involved in the development of the vaccine or some other incredible public service.

“But it’s very hard to see how it’s justified. There are other avenues for that, and I think it’s easier to be clean about this and simply say ‘no, I wouldn’t do it’. Tony Blair didn’t do it and I wouldn’t do it”.

It comes as the prime minister waved through the resignation honours list of Boris Johnson after the House of Lords Appointments Commission had removed the names of key allies of the former PM. 

However, the list is under increased scrutiny after a new video surfaced from Conservative Campaign Headquarters filmed during lockdown showed a party at which two individuals set for gongs. 

The video was obtained by the Mirror newspaper. 

In an interview with Good Morning Britain this morning, the PM refused to comment on whether he would be in the commons for the debate today, adding he does not want to “influence” Conservative colleagues.

“It will be up to each and every individual MP to make a decision of what they want to do when the time comes”, he said.

The PM declined to say if he would be present for the vote, and would not give his view on the proceedings against one of his predecessors.

Mr Sunak said: “This committee was established under the former prime minister.

“It commanded the confidence of the House at the time, and I’m sure they’ve done their work thoroughly and I respect them for that. Obviously this is a matter for the House, not for the government, and that’s why each individual colleague will make up their own mind when the time comes.”

“[I] wouldn’t want to influence anyone in advance of that vote”, he added.

Michael Gove, the housing secretary, confirmed yesterday he will abstain from voting on the partygate report. 

He claimed the privileges committee’s finding that the former prime minister should have been suspended from parliament for 90 days was “not merited”.

He refused to be drawn on whether he believed the prime minister should back the report, saying it is a matter for “each individual” MP to decide for themselves.

Conversely, Damian Green, the former first secretary of state and de facto deputy PM under Theresa May, said last week that he is “intending to vote for the committee’s report” and suggested fellow Conservative MPs should not “run away” from the committee’s findings.

Asked if he believed it was important for Mr Sunak to vote for the report, Mr Green told the BBC: “I think personally it is such an important act that deliberately abstaining is not really rising to the importance of the occasion”.

Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative chair of the defence select committee, has come around to the idea of voting in favour of the partygate report, having previously committed to abstaining.

The change of heart came live on air on an LBC Radio phone-in. 

Mr Ellwood explained: “I’m moved by what I hear I will now change my plans for tomorrow, I will change my plans and come back early and vote to support the privileges committee.

“I’m happy to be persuaded by good people that listen to your show and who expect high standards and you’re right if I can’t emulate those high standards where do we go.”