The Government was forced to abandon an attempt to order Conservative MPs to vote for a delay in setting up an investigation as the scale of discontent on the Tory benches was laid bare.
The investigation by the Privileges Committee, which was approved on Thursday, April 21, will not begin until police inquiries have concluded. The committee will investigate whether Mr Johnson is in contempt of Parliament for misleading MPs with his repeated denials of lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street.
The Prime Minister – who was away from the Commons on an official visit to India on Thursday – insisted he was content to face extra scrutiny, with the parliamentary investigation adding to inquiries conducted by the Metropolitan Police and senior civil servant Sue Gray.
But it will mean the partygate scandal is prolonged and some Tory MPs’ patience with the PM is wearing thin.
Former minister Steve Baker, an influential organiser on the Tory benches, said the Prime Minister “should be long gone”.
Mr Baker, who was a prominent Brexiteer involved in ousting Theresa May, said on Thursday: “Really, the Prime Minister should just know the gig’s up.”
Tory MPs had initially been ordered to back a Government amendment which would defer any decision on referring the matter to the committee until after the conclusion of the Met Police inquiry.
But in a late U-turn shortly before the debate began, they were given a free vote.
The move appeared to confirm speculation at Westminster that a significant number of Conservatives were not prepared to back the Government’s attempt to kick the issue into the long grass.
In response to Mr Baker’s call for him to quit, the Prime Minister said: “I understand people’s feelings. I don’t think that is the right thing to do.”
The Prime Minister said he would be able to give a “fuller account” of his actions once the police investigation is over and the Gray report is published.
He told the BBC: “But until then, I have to say, I think a lot of this is not very useful. There’s not a lot more I can say and what I want to do is focus on the things that I think are a massive long-term benefit to this country.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister had tried to “cover up his misdeeds” by taking advantage of the Commons convention not to call someone a liar.
“The Prime Minister has stood before this House and said things that are not true, safe in the knowledge that he will not be accused of lying because he can’t be,” Sir Keir said.
“He has stood at that despatch box and point blank denied rule-breaking took place, when it did.
“As he did so, he was hoping to gain extra protection from our good faith that no Prime Minister would deliberately mislead the House.”
Scotland Yard’s investigation into the parties in Downing Street and Whitehall during England’s lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 is continuing, although May 5’s local elections mean no announcement about further fines will be made until after polling day.