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Policing partygate

Policing partygate

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How an investigation by the Metropolitan Police threatens Boris Johnson no matter what it finds.


Transcript
claudia williams, narrating:

Hello I’m Claudia and this is the Sensemaker. 

One story, everyday, to make sense of the world.

Today, how Boris Johnson’s party problems now put him in legal jeopardy as well as political peril.

***

The party-gate scandal was supposed to reach some sort of conclusion this week. But it began with news of another potentially rule-breaking event in No 10.  

Welcome back, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had a birthday party during the first Covid19 lockdown in June 2020 when social gatherings indoors were banned according to itv news.

Sky News

Boris Johnson already had an internal government inquiry to worry about, but now he faces something altogether more serious. The police.

I can confirm that the Met is now investigating a number of events that took place at Downing Street and Whitehall…

Met police commissioner Cressida Dick speaking at a press conference as reported in the Guardian

Earlier this week the Metropolitan Police announced it’s conducting its own investigation into what was going on at the heart of government. Although there’s no timescale for how long it will take, the decision to investigate at all raises the spectre of criminality.

But, what actually counted as a breach of coronavirus laws at the time?

*** 

It’s spring 2020. 

From this evening, I must give the British people a very simple instruction: you must stay at home because the critical thing we must do to stop the disease spreading between households.

Boris Johnson addressing the public as reported in the BBC

The country is in a national lockdown.

That is why people will only be allowed to leave their home for the following very limited purposes: shopping for basic necessities as infrequently as possible, one form of exercise a day, for example, a run, walk or cycle alone or with members of your household.

Boris Johnson addressing the public as reported in the BBC

Covid is spreading like wildfire across the world.  

Hundreds dead, thousands infected, across multiple continents millions quarantined with whole cities in lockdown.

Channel 4

But in May, as cases in the UK start to decline, Prime Minister Boris Johnson begins  loosening restrictions. You could now meet one other person from a different household in an outdoor public place, but you still had to remain two metres apart. 

On the same day that Boris Johnson eased restrictions, the charge for breaking any remaining rules increased.

My message is clear: if you don’t follow these rules, then the police will enforce them. Police officers are now moving more quickly to handing out fines when they encounter breaches and they have my absolute backing.

Priti Patel as reported in Sky News

The punishment wasn’t jail time, instead the police could issue something called a fixed penalty notice. The sort of fine you get for a speeding offence. 

So long as you paid it you wouldn’t have a criminal record. These fines increased from £60 to £100 on May 13th 2020. By September fines of up to £10,000 were being issued for people who organised gatherings of over 30 people. 

And as Downing Street staff partied, tens of thousands of these fixed penalty notices were issued. Between March 2020 and January 2021, 42,000 fines had been handed out. The number now stands at over 100,000. 

And court documents unearthed by the Evening Standard show the details of some of these cases. 

A 66 year old man in Brockley was fined for meeting a few friends at his allotment. He said he was trying to break up the loneliness and isolation of lockdown. His statement read: “I’m a sick person with heart failure and other problems. I went to the allotment to get some greens as I don’t eat meat. I am a pensioner struggling to pay my way and [I’m] in debt already. I didn’t wish to break the law.”

On May 20th 2020, when Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary invited 100 people to a “bring your own booze” party in the Downing Street Garden, a man in West London was arrested and fined for standing in the street. 

On May 16th, the day of another Downing Street gathering, a 22-year-old in Hounslow was accused of failing to go home after being ordered off the street by a police officer. He was fined £384.  

And so the cases go on, one after the other, whilst Downing Street staff smuggled wine in suitcases and broke a child’s swing in the garden. 

But, what does a criminal investigation actually mean for the Prime Minister? 

*** 

Although No10 has said that everyone, including Boris Johnson, will cooperate with the police, the prime minister is steadfast in his view that he didn’t break any laws. And some commentators are saying that a police investigation might actually work in his favour.

A criminal inquiry – that will take months – could give him respite and keep the wolves from the door for now. But, ultimately, it’s hard to see how a live police investigation could ever be a good thing for a sitting Prime Minister, regardless of the outcome. 

Whatever happens, it  could spur more Conservative MPs to submit letters calling for a vote of no confidence in him. 

Around 12 of 20 MPs who were elected in 2019, and are part of the so-called pork pie plot, have already submitted letters. We know seven other MPs have already publicly called for Boris Johnson to go although many more letters could officially have gone in.  

Sky News

Boris Johnson has weathered many storms but this just feels different. He can try to move on but this police investigation will continue in the background, a thorn in his side.

And even if the police find that Boris Johnson didn’t break the law, that thorn may still cause a political wound even he can’t recover from. 

Today’s story was written by Nimo Omer and produced by Imy Harper.


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