After the police issued a fixed penalty notice to the Prime Minister over lockdown breaches – with potentially as many as 5 more fines on the way – Parliament is set to hold two significant votes next week which could define the prime minister’s future.
On Tuesday, it is expected that Speaker of the House of Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, will permit a vote amongst MPs over whether to hold an investigation in to whether the Prime Minister misled Parliament over previous remarks in the House of Commons that he had not broken any lockdown rules.
This vote will potentially put Conservative MPs into a catch-22 situation; they will have to decide whether to back the prime minister who as much as 61% of the public believe should resign over breaking the rules, or whether to permit an investigation into their own leader and prime minister.
It will pose a particular challenge to many backbench MPs that have previously suggested that the prime minister should resign, or that they would decide whether he should resign at the conclusion of a police investigation.
The second major vote – likely to be held on Wednesday – is whether matters should be handed over to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee. The Committee has a Conservative majority but is chaired by Labour MP and fierce critic of the government, Chris Bryant. The Committee would have the power to investigate whether the prime minister misled the House of Commons.
If found to have committed wrongdoing, the Committee has the power to suspend or expel Johnson from the House. The Committee recently exercised their suspension power, handing Conservative MP Owen Patterson – who later resigned from the House of Commons following an attempt to change the Committee’s powers – a 6 week suspension. The Conservatives lost the subsequent by-election to the Liberal Democrats.
It is almost guaranteed that all opposition MPs will support an investigation into the prime minister, but as the Conservatives hold a majority in the House of Commons, it will be Conservative MPs who hold the power to force an investigation into their leader’s conduct.
The public will inevitably demand a full investigation into whether Johnson misled the House, and failure of the Conservatives to permit an investigation may cause yet more pain in the national polls, just 4 weeks away from the May 2022 local elections.
If they do permit an investigation however, they risk the Prime Minister being found guilty of wrongdoing, leaving his premiership in an untenable position.