Boris Johnson’s upcoming India visit will be viewed as a “vanity trip” designed to distract from his domestic troubles on the Partygate scandal, unless key commitments are secured, Labor has claimed.
It comes as the prime minister prepares to travel to New Delhi and Gujarat later this week for talks with India’s leader, Narendra Modi, in an attempt to drive progress on a free trade agreement.
Ahead of the trip on Thursday, Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow international trade secretary, said Mr Johnson must secure commitments on climate change and labor standards in supply chains.
“Otherwise, people will — rightly — see this as a vanity trip to distract from the prime minister’s law-breaking and failure to tackle the cost-of-living crisis,” the Labor frontbencher insisted.
Before traveling to India, Mr Johnson will face MPs for the first time since being issued with a fixed penalty notice, and fresh allegations he led leaving event celebrations for a former No 10 spin doctor.
Energy minister Greg Hands confirmed on Monday, Mr Johnson, who last week became the first sitting prime minister to have found to have broken the law, will deliver a Commons statement on Tuesday and “have his say” on the scandal.
He said Mr Johnson “will outline his version of events and face questions” from MPs after he was forced to issue a “full apology” last week after being fined for attending a birthday gathering in the Cabinet room of Downing Street in June 2020.
Close allies of the prime minister told The Times that Mr Johnson accepts that “mistakes were made”, but predicted he would tell MPs there was “always an exemption for work and people working in close proximity in No 10 for very long hours”.
But Mr Johnson’s planned message of defiance on the Partygate scandal follow fresh reports that he not only participated in, but in fact led the celebrations, at a leaving do for his former director of communications, Lee Cain, on 13 November 2020, and during England’s second lockdown.
“This wasn’t a leaving drinks — until the prime minister arrived,” a source told The Sunday Times.
“This was the usual press office Friday evening wash-up drinks. Boris came fumbling over, red box in tow, and he gathered the staff around the press office table, which did have bottles of alcohol on it.
“He said he wanted to say a few words for Lee and started pouring drinks for people and drinking himself. I have toasted him”.
A No 10 source denied the prime minister had led or instigated the event when approached by The Independent.
The event is one of 12 being investigated by the Metropolitan Police as part of Operation Hillman, with the prime minister facing the prospect of further ends for his involvement in the gatherings.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “While the British public was making huge sacrifices, Boris Johnson was breaking the law.
“If the latest reports are true, it would mean that not only did the prime minister attend parties, but he had a hand in instigating at least one of them. He has deliberately misled the British people at every turn.
“The prime minister has demanded his office. The British people deserve better. While Labor has a plan for tackling the cost-of-living crisis, Tory MPs are too busy defending the indefensible actions of Boris Johnson.”