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Boris Johnson’s ‘clear the air’ showdown with MPs

Laughter and banging of tables said to have punctuated private meeting

A “bullish” Boris Johnson held a private “clear the air” meeting with Tory MPs shortly after his apology to the House of Commons for attending a lockdown party, according to reports.

The prime minister’s performance in the chamber yesterday was described as “flimsy and feeble” by The Guardian’s sketchwriter John Crace. The Independent reported that the apology had “failed to appease Conservative critics who are calling for his head”.

In a tweeted letter of no confidence to 1922 Committee chair Graham Brady, Tory MP Mark Harper said that Johnson should quit over his "indefensible" actions.

But according to The Mirror, Johnson “got laughs” from MPs at his private meeting, during which he “took an apparent swipe at Justin Welby” in response to the archbishop’s criticism in his Easter sermon of government plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

‘Whipping up of hysteria’

Journalists also present at the behind-doors gathering told The Independent that the PM’s arrival was “met with sustained table-banging and the odd whoop”.

Johnson was flanked by Rishi Sunak, who had delayed a trip to the US to show support for his boss. The PM was reported to have briefly expressed “genuine regret” to the gathered MPs before urging them to unite behind him.

The Mirror said that “several rounds of laughter and banging of tables from his supporters could be heard through the doors of the oak-panelled committee room” during the 35-minute meeting in Parliament.

Johnson reportedly insisted that his plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda was a “good policy” despite some “criticism on the BBC and from senior members of the clergy”.

A source said Johnson claimed that these members of the clergy had “coincidentally had been less vociferous in their condemnation on Easter Sunday” of Vladimir Putin “than they were of our policy on illegal immigrants”.

However, “two MPs who attended the meeting said they did not recall hearing this comment”, according to the paper.

Around 20 MPs were said to have asked questions during the “clear-the-air meeting”, of which only two, from “known critics” of Johnson, were “sceptical”. A “bullish” prime minister allegedly shouted: “Would you rather have Labour?”

The Telegraph said that Jason McCartney, the Tory MP for Colne Valley, was heard telling the PM that Keir Starmer was guilty of the “whipping up of hysteria” and of using language that showed a “visceral hatred” of Johnson.

The Tory leader reportedly replied that there had been a “coarsening of the debate that does our politics no favours”.

Inquiry vote 

The Times reported that Johnson will order Conservative MPs to block an investigation into claims that he misled Parliament over lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street.

Tory whips have ordered all MPs to be in the Commons tomorrow to vote against a motion referring Johnson to a formal investigation by the Commons Committee of Privileges for contempt.

But although the PM – who has a working majority of 75 – is expected to win the vote, a number of Tory MPs will abstain out of fear that the issue will “haunt” them at the general election, according to the paper. Those abstentions will “provide the first clear sign of the strength of concern on the back benches”.

During last night’s private meeting, former whip Craig Whittaker reportedly “asked Johnson to self-refer to the privileges committee so that MPs would be saved a difficult vote“.

The PM was said to have replied that he would leave the issue “in the hands of the House of Commons“ and to have “dismissively referred to the committee as the Bryant committee”, in reference to its chair, Labour MP Chris Bryant.

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