Michael Gove ‘apologises’ for Tory lockdown party
Michael Gove will refuse to endorse a Commons committee’s threat to suspend Boris Johnson from Parliament for 90 days.
The Levelling Up Secretary criticised the proposal because it is “not merited”.
MPs will on Monday debate the “witch-hunt” report that forced Mr Johnson to quit Parliament but may avoid a vote on its findings.
It comes as a new video emerged showing a group of Conservative Party workers socialising at a Christmas do during lockdown.
An investigation was previously launched into the event by the Metropolitan Police, who are now “considering” the footage.
A vote on Mr Johnson will only be called if MPs shout their objection to the findings. But the former prime minister has urged his allies to ignore the “farce” and “move on”.
Mr Gove revealed he will abstain if there is a vote. He said: “The Privileges Committee report is pretty clear, but I think there are several things to say here.
“The first is that it is Boris’s sincere belief that he was assured that the rules were followed.
“I would invite everyone to read the Privileges Committee report. It draws some important distinctions between Boris’s belief, the way in which he sought to assure himself on the facts and then the views and indeed the testimony of others.
“But I entirely understand that there is a desire for what was a complex, fraught and flawed execution of policy within Number 10 to be summed up in one word. But the reason the committee both took their time and issued a report at such length, is that there are complexities there. So, reducing it to a single badge to pin on Boris Johnson, I think, isn’t right. I have read the whole report. There are parts of it that I think are excellent work.
“I don’t agree with the conclusion, however, personally. I think that the final conclusion, the decision to impose a 90-day penalty, is not merited by the evidence that the committee has put forward.”
Mr Gove’s comments strengthen Mr Johnson’s claims that he has been unfairly treated by the “kangaroo court” committee.
The pair have had a difficult relationship, with Mr Gove torpedoing Mr Johnson’s first attempt to become PM and then telling him to quit in the dying days of his premiership. Mr Johnson sacked him in return. Other Tory MPs who do not back Mr Johnson are now considering speaking out in the debate.
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Downing Street has refused to say how PM Rishi Sunak would vote.
But he may avoid a messy row within the party over who voted which way if the report’s recommendations are nodded through.
Mr Gove was also forced to comment on the new video of Tory workers at a party during lockdown. The footage shows one attendee joking about Covid restrictions and saying, “As long as we don’t stream that we’re, like, bending the rules”, before laughing while a man and woman hold hands and dance.
The pair crash into a buffet table stacked with food and wine glasses at one point, while other guests walk past wearing paper crowns and clutching alcoholic drinks.
Mr Gove said the event shown in the footage was “terrible” and “unacceptable”.
The Levelling Up Secretary said: “I want to apologise to everyone who, looking at that, will think these people are flouting the rules designed to protect us all.”
The event was attended by the Tory Party’s former London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey and Tory aide Ben Mallet – who received a peerage and an OBE respectively in Mr Johnson’s resignation honours.
Mr Bailey reportedly left the event before the video was taken and has previously apologised for his involvement.
Asked whether the pair should be blocked from receiving honours, Mr Gove said: “No, I don’t think that and I have to explain the context for that. The decision to confer honours on people was one that was made by Boris Johnson as an outgoing prime minister. Outgoing prime ministers have that right.
“Whether or not they should is a matter of legitimate public debate, but they do at the moment.”
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