No 10 Gatherings- 13th April 2022 (updated on 21st April regarding the Opposition motion to refer the Prime Minster to the Privileges Committee)

Dear Constituent,

Thank you for contacting me following the Prime Minister and the Chancellor advising that they had been issued with fixed penalty notices.
The penalties were applied for an event on June 19th.
Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have apologised. 

The Prime Minister has further said that “…at the time I was standing up for nine minutes in the cabinet room where I work every day, it didn’t occur to me that I was in breach of the rules. I now humbly accept that I was.”
This news will be a grave disappointment to many constituents who rightly expect the highest standard of behaviour from our political leaders.  

In the assessment of some, this news will confirm their views on the character of the Prime Minister; for some it will be an important factor in their choice of political party to support in a future election.
Some constituents have asked me to go further: to force the Prime Minister to resign in mid-term.  I do not agree that the announcements made yesterday yet achieve the standard needed for such an action on my part.  

The Prime Minister was elected with a significant majority at the last election.  In my view it is still the case that a decision on the future office of the Prime Minister should be made by voters at the next election.
You may be aware from my earlier correspondence, or from reading the relevant post on my website (available here), that there are further challenges for the Prime Minister, including most importantly allegations that he wilfully misled Parliament.  I will continue to review information on these other challenges as this is forthcoming.

Following the issue of the fixed penalty notice, the Opposition tabled a motion calling for the Prime Minister to be referred to the Privileges Committee regarding certain statements made by the Prime Minister to the House of Commons. This was debated on the 21st April and was passed without a vote.

The motion was proposed in the name of the leader of the Opposition, Sir Kier Starmer.

The Privileges Committee membership is a subset of the Standards Committee, with the latter Committee adding non-Parliamentarian members.  As the issues regarding the Prime Minister are being referred to the Privileges Committee, these “independent” members will play no role in this particular enquiry by the Privileges Committee.

Constituents may recall that the Standards Committee reported late last year on actions by Owen Paterson when that Committee deemed that the MP had breached rules on lobbying

When the Paterson Report came to Parliament, I broke a three line whip and, along with twelve other Conservative colleagues voted to support the report’s recommendations.

I did so, in large part, because I believed in the integrity of the Standards Committee and in its ability to provide a balanced and fair appraisal of the accusation and of the facts as presented. 

I have some concerns about the ability of the Privileges Committee to conduct an effective investigation into the particular matters requested by the Opposition.

The Chairman of the Committee has already recused himself from the Committee because he has already made his views clear publicly.  There can, however, be few MPs who have not already formed a view which will make independent deliberation very tricky.  I fear that the evidentiary base will prove somewhat flimsy and will not take us further forward.

Ultimately the recommendations will need to be voted upon and may take us into uncharted waters, potentially forcing the vote to be, in effect, a vote of confidence.  Is that vote to be whipped as is usually the case for confidence vote, or to be a free vote as is usually the case for Privilege Committee reports?

The standards and privileges of Parliament are important, but this referral to the Privileges Committee is fraught with challenges and, ultimately, I fear will fail to satisfy any one.