Despite all the fallout between Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak, it could be a supreme irony that the PM ends up taking a leaf out his Mr Johnson’s playbook to get out of his latest sticky wicket.
As Foreign Secretary, Mr Johnson famously jetted off for a spurious ad hoc meeting in Afghanistan to avoid voting to approve a third runway at Heathrow – a whipped vote which would require him to break a solemn vow to lie down in front of bulldozers to prevent one being built.
Now Mr Sunak may be desperately looking for a reason to leave the country on Monday and avoid voting on the Mr Johnson Privileges Committee sanctions.
The vote, confirmed to coincide with Mr Johnson’s 59th birthday, will be a “free vote”, meaning each MP gets to vote with their conscience rather than how the party dictates.
That at least means Mr Sunak will avoid all-out civil war by dictating which voting lobby his troops should file down, but how Mr Sunak himself votes will be one of the hardest decisions of his career.
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On the one hand, voting in favour of the report would risk turning a large percentage of the Boris-loving party membership against him – very brave given the party conference is only a summer away.
On the other hand, voting against the report will lead to weeks of media criticism and attacks from the Opposition that he’s weak and in the pocket of Mr Johnson.
The trickiness of the vote must make jetting off to Afghanistan – or even a war-torn Ukraine – sound very appealing to the PM.
At the daily No. 10 press briefing, Mr Sunak’s spokesman repeatedly refused to be drawn on where the PM will be on Monday, how he will vote, whether he’s read the report and whether he has a reaction to the Privileges Committee.
Thankfully journalists have more than enough news to be going on with, so they let it slide.
The biggest takeaway upon leaving Downing Street, however, is that while No. 10 now relaxes in the hope it can move on from the Boris “psychodrama”, this could prove the moment of maximum peril.
The important probe came from the Mirror: is the Prime Minister confident he himself did not mislead parliament over Partygate?
In December 2021 Labour MP Karl Turner bluntly asked: “Will he categorically deny in the House that he or any of his officials or Spads attended any of the Downing Street Christmas parties on 27 November or 18 December last year?”
Mr Sunak with equal bluntness replied: “No, I did not attend any parties.”
Given he got a Fixed Penalty Notice for the same birthday celebration that the Privileges Committee has now ruled did constitute a party, that now seems incorrect.
Worse than that – Mr Sunak has not corrected the record in Hansard.
The Government may well hope that now Boris is gone they can get on with delivery.
However they may soon discover that Mr Johnson was distracting the political press corp from his own controversies, and now he is out of the picture the media’s desire for a pound of Tory flesh may quickly make him the focus of the same vitriolic stories that his predecessor has had to put up with for four years.
In that circumstance, Mr Sunak may be rushing to find Mr Johnson a safe by-election seat.