Boris Johnson is to meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday as a investigation into whether he misled parliament about lockdown-busting Downing Street parties looms.
The prime minister will try to progress UK-India trade talks when he meets Mr Modi in New Delhi, emphasising the importance of the partnership between the two nations for global peace and security.
He is also expected to discuss a new co-operation on clean and renewable energy in the hope of supporting India’s transition away from imported oil.
It comes after it was confirmed that the PM will face a parliamentary investigation into whether he misled MPs when he denied lockdown rules were broken across Downing Street and Whitehall.
Politics hub: PM to face fresh partygate investigation
Committee to examine whether PM lied to parliament
MPs backed a Labour-led motion calling for the Privileges Committee to investigate Mr Johnson’s conduct.
The motion was nodded through without a vote.
Conservative MPs had earlier been ordered to back a government attempt to delay the vote until inquiries by the Met Police and civil servant Sue Gray have concluded.
In a late reversal shortly before the debate began amid widespread reports that numerous Tory MPs may rebel against the government, Commons Leader Mark Spencer said Conservative MPs could vote however they wanted on Labour’s motion.
And in a blow to Mr Johnson, former minister Steve Baker, an influential Conservative MP, earlier said the prime minister “should be long gone”.
Conservative MPs call for Johnson to go
Meanwhile, fellow Conservative MP and Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee chairman William Wragg confirmed he had submitted a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson’s leadership.
“I cannot reconcile myself to the prime minister’s continued leadership of our country and the Conservative Party,” he told MPs in a scathing Commons speech.
Speaking to Sky News’ political editor Beth Rigby in India, the prime minister insisted he had “absolutely nothing, frankly, to hide” when trying to explain his decision to drop the government’s amendment to the Labour motion.
“People were saying it looks like we are trying to stop stuff. I didn’t want that. I didn’t want people to be able say that,” Mr Johnson said.
Meanwhile, responding to Mr Baker’s call for him to quit, the PM added: “I understand people’s feelings. I don’t think that is the right thing to do.”
The investigation will not fully begin until the conclusion of the Metropolitan Police’s inquiry into 12 events and the Privileges Committee will determine whether the PM is in contempt of parliament for misleading MPs with his repeated denials of lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street.
On Thursday, the Met confirmed that they will not issue any further partygate updates before the May local elections.
Scotland Yard told Sky News that the investigation would carry on and officers would continue recommending fines – but the force will not put out media notices on referrals until after the polls on 5 May.
But Number 10 has pledged to confirm if the prime minister or cabinet secretary receive any fines before next month’s elections.
So far, more than 50 fines have been issued in relation to the lockdown-breaking parties in Westminster.
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Last week the prime minister, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Mr Johnson’s wife Carrie Johnson were all issued fixed-penalty notices for attending an event to mark the prime minister’s 56th birthday.
The prime minister is thought to have been at more of the 12 events under investigation by Scotland Yard.
The PM has faced persistent calls to resign over partygate and apologised to MPs this week in a performance high on contrition.
Earlier on Thursday, Mr Sunak said he is “extremely and sincerely sorry” for the upset he caused by attending the rule-breaching gathering.
Speaking in Washington ahead of an IMF meeting, Mr Sunak apologised for the “hurt and the anger” he had caused over his partygate fine and said he had “always acted in good faith” when discussing the matter in parliament.
The prime minister missed the debate in the Commons on his conduct on Thursday as he began his two-day official visit to India.
On Friday, Mr Johnson will discuss next-generation defence and security collaboration with Mr Modi across land, sea, air, space and cyber – including support for new Indian-designed and built fighter jets.
Read more: What are the Met Police investigating regarding partygate?
The UK will issue an Open General Export Licence to India – reducing bureaucracy and shortening delivery times for defence procurement.
A virtual Hydrogen Science and Innovation hub will also be launched to accelerate green hydrogen.
Ahead of his meeting with the Indian PM, Mr Johnson said: “The world faces growing threats from autocratic states which seek to undermine democracy, choke off free and fair trade and trample on sovereignty.
“The UK’s partnership with India is a beacon in these stormy seas. Our collaboration on the issues that matter to both our countries, from climate change to energy security and defence, is of vital importance as we look to the future.
“I look forward to discussing these issues with Prime Minister Modi in New Delhi today and working together to deliver a more secure and prosperous future for both our peoples.”