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Forgiveness is deferred as MPs ask privileges committee to investigate PM

22 April 2022


The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, with sadhus at the Swaminarayan Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad, on Thursday, during a brief visit to India

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, with sadhus at the Swaminarayan Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad, on Thursday, during a brief visit to I...

CHRISTIAN conceptions of forgiveness were cited on both sides of the debate on a motion to investigate whether the Prime Minister knowingly misled Parliament.

The positive vote on Thursday means that Boris Johnson’s assertions that lockdown rules were “followed at all times” in Downing Street will be examined by the House of Commons privileges committee, after the Prime Minister received a fixed-penalty notice (FPN) for his part in one of the gatherings.

Conservative MPs were allowed a free vote on the issue after it was made clear that the parliamentary inquiry would not begin until after the conclusion of the police investigation. More than 50 FPNs have been issued to date, and it is likely that more will be issued.

In a debate on Labour’s motion to refer Mr Johnson to the privileges committee, several Conservative MPs stated their intention to vote in favour of the motion. Mr Johnson himself, speaking on an official trip to India, contended that he was “very keen for every possible form of scrutiny”.

Alexander Stafford, Conservative MP for Rother Valley, defended Mr Johnson in the House of Commons debate, saying: “I am a Christian myself . . . this is a Christian country.

“And forgiveness is the core of what we believe in, what this country believes.”

Steve Baker, Conservative MP for Wycombe, also talked about his Christian faith and the theology of forgiveness, but came to a different conclusion.

Mr Baker said he was “moved to forgive” Mr Johnson after his apology at the dispatch box on Tuesday, but that he got the sense that the “beautiful, marvellous contrition” shown by Mr Johnson “only lasted as long as it took to get out of the headmaster’s study. . .

“I do not want to forgive our Prime Minister . . . the possibility of that really, for me, has gone. . . My spirit is much more full of wrath and vengeance.”

Mr Baker said that he “felt much more Ezekiel 7.3 about this”. He continued: “I’d invite anyone to look that up.” Ezekiel 7.3 reads: “The end is now upon you, and I will unleash my anger against you. I will judge you according to your ways and repay you for all your abominations.”

He praised Mr Johnson’s political achievements, and said that “he will deserve to be lauded in the history books” for bringing the UK out of the European Union. But he concluded that “the Prime Minister should just know the gig’s up.”

In the event, there was no vote, as the motion was “nodded through” with no verbal objections to the motion. Mr Johnson will now be the first sitting Prime Minister to face an investigation into whether they broke the ministerial code by “knowingly misleading Parliament”.

Several bishops have been critical of Mr Johnson’s refusal to resign after being found to have broken lockdown rules (News, 20 April). The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, said on Maundy Thursday: “If breaking the laws you have made, and then lying about it, does not require resignation, then what does?”

During the debate yesterday, the former Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, tweeted a quote from the leader of the opposition, Sir Keir Starmer: “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.”

The deputy leader of the Labour Party, Angela Rayner, closed the debate for the Opposition. She directly addressed Conservative MPs, saying that “the Prime Minister is leading the Conservative party into the sewer. It is up to members opposite whether to follow him.”

The Paymaster General, Michael Ellis, countered that Mr Johnson had apologised “repeatedly”, and “has asked for the House’s forgiveness and for the ability to get on and serve the people of this country”.

Any recommendations made by the privileges committee, which could include a Parliamentary suspension for Mr Johnson, will be put to a vote in the Commons. The Government has a working majority of around 77 in Parliament, so a large number of Conservative MPs would have to either abstain or vote against Mr Johnson for any sanction to be upheld.

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