Lockdown party scandal
Johnson and Sunak fined but PM refuses to quit
Boris Johnson tonight apologised for breaking the law when he attended a party during lockdown, but refused to resign.
The Prime Minister and the Chancellor Rishi Sunak were fined for their attendance at the event in Downing Street.
No 10 said they are among 30 further fixed penalty notices issued by Scotland Yard following its investigation into the scandal.
Mr Johnson is the first serving Prime Minister to be penalised for breaking the law. His wife Carrie has also confirmed that she has been notified that she will receive a fixed penalty notice.
The announcement immediately prompted demands for Mr Johnson to resign as he was accused of being untruthful and therefore unfit for office.
But tonight the PM, speaking from Chequers, refused to step down, and insisted that at the time he attended the party on 19 June 2020 he had not believed he was breaking the rules, even though he introduced them.
He insisted he had only attended for 10 minutes between a heavy rota of meetings and events on his 56th birthday.
Mr Johnson said: “The best thing I can do, having paid the fine, is focus on the job in hand … I feel an even greater sense of obligation to deliver on the priorities of the British people.”
Both Mr Johnson and his wife have paid their fines, believed to be £50. He told reporters: “I have to say, in all frankness, at that time it did not occur to me that this might have been a breach of the rules. But, of course, the police have found otherwise and I fully respect the outcome of their investigation.
“I understand the anger many will feel that I myself fell short when it came to observing the very rules which the government I lead had introduced to protect the public. And I accept, in all sincerity, that people had the right to expect better.”
Mr Sunak later issued an apology and said he was “focused on delivering for the British people”.
Tonight a snap poll by YouGov showed that three-quarters of Britons believe Mr Johnson knowingly broke his own laws, with 57% saying he should resign.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had earlier called for Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak to resign, tweeting that “Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have broken the law and repeatedly lied to the British public.”
The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: “Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak must now resign. The Prime Minister repeatedly misled Parliament, lied to the public and at times even simply laughed it off – taking the public for fools.”
The Metropolitan Police have been investigating 12 gatherings alleged to have broken Covid rules, in both Downing Street and Whitehall.
More than 50 fines have been issued to officials for breaking the law by holding events in government premises.
The Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross was among more than a dozen Tory MPs who called for Mr Johnson to resign at the height of the scandal.
Mr Ross later withdrew his letter in the light of Downing Street’s focus on the Ukraine war. However, he is facing renewed questions about whether Mr Johnson should leave office.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Douglas Ross needs to show some guts and some leadership and call for the criminal Prime Minister and the Chancellor to go.”
But Mr Ross insisted this was not the time to be removing the Prime Minister.
In a statement, he said: “The public are rightly furious at what happened in Downing Street during the pandemic. I understand why they are angry and share their fury. The behaviour was unacceptable. The Prime Minister now needs to respond to these fines being issued.
“However, as I’ve made very clear, in the middle of war in Europe, when Vladimir Putin is committing war crimes and the UK is Ukraine’s biggest ally, as President Zelensky said at the weekend, it wouldn’t be right to remove the Prime Minister at this time.
“It would destabilise the UK Government when we need to be united in the face of Russian aggression and the murdering of innocent Ukrainians.”
Commenting on Mr Ross’s statement, Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie, said: “This is a shameful attempt by Douglas Ross to hide his lack of principle behind the ongoing tragedy in Ukraine.
“That Douglas Ross does not have the spine to condemn Boris Johnson’s actions and demand his removal from office is simply shocking.
“Even Ruth Davidson – who is currently being wheeled out by Scottish Tory spin doctors to save them from electoral oblivion – has said that Boris Johnson must go.
“No one is above the law and it is simply unacceptable to use the human tragedy in Ukraine to shield the Prime Minister.
“Douglas Ross should hang his head in shame.”
SNP MSP Paul McLennan said: “The Partygate scandal has demonstrated without question that Douglas Ross lacks the required judgment to ever be a credible leader.
“After temporarily discovering a backbone to call for Johnson’s resignation, he quickly reverted to type by withdrawing that call so he could roll out the red carpet for his boss at a party conference.
“No doubt his group of Tory MSPs are furious that he marched them all up a hill and has completely destroyed their credibility.
“Scotland deserves better. Thankfully, voters across the country have the chance to show the Tories exactly what they think of them in the council elections on May 5.”
… more follows