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UK lawmakers to vote on holding probe into PM Johnson's denial of lockdown breaches

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By Reuters
UK parliament to vote on probing claims PM Johnson misled parliament - The Sun
UK parliament to vote on probing claims PM Johnson misled parliament - The Sun   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2022

By Kylie MacLellan and Andrew MacAskill

LONDON -British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will face a vote later this week on whether he should be investigated over claims he misled parliament by repeatedly insisting that he did not breach the COVID-19 regulations.

Johnson was fined by the police last week for attending a birthday party thrown in his honour in June 2020 when people from different households were not allowed to meet indoors.

Opponents have called for Johnson to resign, accusing him of misleading parliament after he told lawmakers last year that all rules were followed in Downing Street – the prime minister’s official residence and workplace – during the pandemic.

Lindsay Hoyle, the House of Commons Speaker, granted opposition parties’ request for a vote on Thursday on whether to refer Johnson to the privileges committee for an inquiry.

Under the ministerial code, knowingly misleading parliament is an offence that should result in resignation.

However, the motion is unlikely to pass because Johnson retains the support of most lawmakers in his Conservative Party and can still command a majority in parliament, but the debate will draw fresh attention to a damaging issue for his leadership.

Johnson will address parliament at around 1530 GMT to apologise for breaking the lockdown regulations as he faces lawmakers for the first time since he was fined.

He will attempt to deflect some of the criticism by talking about other issues he is dealing with, including the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis and immigration.

Britain’s Northern Ireland minister Brandon Lewis played down claims that the prime minister had misled parliament and suggested that the fine he paid was similar to ministers who have previously received parking fines.

“When he spoke to parliament he was speaking what he believed to be the truth,” Lewis told Sky News. “But he absolutely accepts the police have looked at this, they have taken a different view.”

Johnson has said it hadn’t occurred to him he was in breach of the rules but he now “humbly” accepted he was.

PARTYSUPPORT

A poll by J L Partners for The Times newspaper, which asked almost 2,000 people to give their view of the prime minister in a few words, found comments from 72% of respondents were negative, compared to 16% that were positive. The most common word used was “liar”, it reported.

The main opposition Labour Party urged Conservatives to use their conscience and vote against their leader, but conceded they were unlikely to win enough votes to trigger an investigation.

Pressure to resign from Johnson’s own lawmakers has abated with the war in Ukraine in which he has sought to play a leading role in the West’s response. While a handful have repeated calls for him to go, most say now is not the time.

Conservative Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the party’s “1922 Committee” which represents lawmakers who have no government jobs, said he would reserve judgement until the police investigation had concluded and the British public had had their say in local elections in early May.

“At the moment my judgement would be, it is certainly not in the country’s interests to think about replacing the prime minister,” he said.

Labour leader Keir Starmer accused the prime minister of using the conflict in Ukraine as a shield to keep his job and said that he finds such a tactic “pretty offensive”.

“He’s not just broken the rules, he’s lied to the public and he’s lied to parliament about it,” he said.