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Partygate: Johnson and Sunak fined

Partygate: Johnson and Sunak fined

Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak have been fined for breaking lockdown rules in Downing Street. A couple of months ago it could have led to the Prime Minister’s resignation, but things are different now. What’s changed?


“Some breaking news regarding a party that allegedly took place in the Downing Street garden in May of last year…”

Sky News

“Morning all, and it is the morning after the night before but it is unlikely Boris Johnson is waking up with a clear head. An apology over a leaked video showing No. 10 staff laughing over about an alleged rule breaking party…”

Sky News

“Well Emma another day and another damaging leak from right in the heart of Downing Street about a lockdown party so let’s just take a look at that email you were mentioning…”

BBC, Newsnight

Partygate, lockdown rule-breaking at the heart of the British government.

Now we know that Boris Johnson, his wife Carrie and the Chancellor Rishi Sunak all broke the law by attending a birthday party for the Prime Minister in Downing Street in June 2020.

“The British prime minister Boris Johnson had a birthday party during the first Covid-19 lockdown in June 2020 when social gatherings indoors were banned, according to ITV News.”

Sky News

Since news of the Downing Street parties broke last year Boris Johnson has offered several defences.  On one occasion he described them as work events in which all guidance was followed.

Another time he said that he certainly broke no rules. 

And on another occasion he said nobody told him what he was doing was against the rules. 

We now know that was untrue in at least one case involving him –  on his birthday on June the 19th 2020.

We also know that the law was broken in other cases too, because the Metropolitan Police has issued at least 50 fines. Last month Johnson was asked to accept that criminality had taken place in Downing Street. 

“I’ve been, I hope, very frank with the house about where I think we’ve gone wrong and the things that I regret I’ve apologised for… but I’ve been very clear I won’t give running commentary on an ongoing investigation.”

Boris Johnson

But on Tuesday, after he had been fined, he offered this apology. 

“I’ve received a fixed penalty notice from the Metropolitan Police relating to an event in Downing Street on 19th June 2020 and let me say immediately that I’ve paid the fine and I once again offer a full apology and in the spirit of openness and humility, I want to be completely clear about what happened on that date.”

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson had become the first sitting Prime Minister in history to have been found to have broken the law.

“The Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Chancellor Rishi Sunak have both received fines from the police for breaking lockdown rules.”

BBC News

For Rishi Sunak – not long ago the government’s golden boy and a favourite to succeed Boris Johnson  –  this comes on the back of a bruising few weeks.

His Spring Statement was badly received amidst the cost of living crisis, followed by controversy over his family’s tax affairs.

“It must have been an interesting week around the breakfast table in the Sunak household as the person who sets the tax rules for all of us, the tax arrangements of the chancellor’s own wife have dominated the headlines.”

BBC News

The Metropolitan Police is still investigating at least five more parties which Boris Johnson attended. So he could face more fines.

“I can confirm that the Met is now investigating a number of events that took place at Downing Street and Whitehall in the last two years in relation to potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations.”

Cressida Dick, former Commissioner, Metropolitan Police

Opposition parties are united in their call for the Prime Minister to resign. 

Lord Wolfson, a justice minister, resigned on Wednesday over what he described as repeated rule breaking and breaches of the law. However, Boris Johnson’s own MPs – some of whom were keen to oust him earlier this year – look unlikely to do so right now. 

***

[Clip: air raid siren]

Before the war in Ukraine, a dozen Tory MPs had publicly called for Boris Johnson to go. It’s believed many more thought he should quit, but weren’t willing to say so in public. 

Lara Spirit covers Westminster for Tortoise.

“The Prime Minister finally being issued a fine seems to have changed… not that much. Just a single MP has since reiterated their call for him to go. Just one. So around 80 – about a quarter of the party – have already done the opposite and insisted, publicly and defiantly, that he should stay. That’s before the investigation is even concluded: before we know how many fines he will get or what the Sue Gray report, a full report on what happened to be issued following the conclusion of the police’s investigation, will say.”

Lara Spirit, Tortoise

After a long wait for his response to the fine, which fuelled speculation that he might quit, Rishi Sunak issued a statement apologising, but not resigning.

So it doesn’t look like the Prime Minister or the Chancellor are going anywhere for now.

On the 5th of May, voters will head to the polls for local elections across the UK. With the cost of living crisis and partygate biting,  backbench Tory MPs may renew their calls for Boris Johnson to go.

Today’s story was written by Lara Spirit and mixed by Imy Harper.