Boris Johnson will face an investigation into whether he lied to parliament over lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street after Conservative MPs refused to vote against the inquiry.
In a dramatic reversal at Westminster on Thursday, government whips abandoned an attempt to delay a vote on referring the prime minister to the Commons privileges committee.
Labour's motion passed without a vote, although the committee will not start its work until after the Metropolitan Police investigation is completed and senior civil servant Sue Gray publishes her report on the parties.
The police have issued more than 50 fines, including to Mr Johnson, his wife Carrie and chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak but they said on Thursday that they would not announce further penalties until after local elections on May 6th.
"Boris Johnson has lost the trust of the public over parties held in Downing Street during lockdown. Now it's clear he has lost the confidence of his MPs. Today's humiliating climbdown showed that they know they can no longer defend the indefensible," Labour leader Keir Starmer said after the Commons motion was passed.
Mr Johnson, who is in India on a trade visit, said he had "no concerns" about the committee's investigation and that he had nothing to hide. But the debate saw a number of Conservative MPs calling for the prime minister's resignation, including former chairman of the Eurosceptic European Research Group Steve Baker.
“I have to say I’m sorry that, for not obeying the letter and spirit – and I think we have heard that the prime minister did know what the letter was – the prime minister now should be long gone. I’ll certainly vote for this motion. But really, the prime minister should just know the gig’s up,” he said.
William Wragg, who was one of the first Conservative MPs to call on Mr Johnson to resign over the Downing Street parties, said his colleagues had a duty to hold the prime minister to account.
“For us to maintain their trust and confidence we must be seen to do the right thing. It is our responsibility. It is the Conservative parliamentary party’s responsibility. We must stop delegating and delaying our political judgment. We each only have our own limited and imperfect integrity. We can’t keep spending it on others who we cannot be sure will not let us down,” he said.
The privileges committee will be able to call witnesses and to view evidence, including hundreds of photographs believed to have been uncovered during Ms Gray’s investigation.
The committee's chairman, Labour's Chris Bryant, recused himself from the investigation because of his past criticism of the prime minister.
“You need at a moment of national and international crisis, a leader of completely and utterly unimpeachable moral authority. I don’t think we have that at the moment. I don’t think we have that by a long chalk,” he said. “I have heard ministers argue quite rightly that there has to be due process. I would say to the house that this is the due process – it always has been the due process.”