Boris Johnson became the first sitting UK prime minister to be censured for breaking the law on Tuesday, when it was announced he was to be fined for attending his own birthday party in breach of Covid regulations.
Mr Johnson, his wife Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are included in the latest round of punishments over “partygate”, in which events were held in and around Downing Street during Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.
Mr Johnson is now facing intense pressure to resign as the fine means he has broken the law and seemingly misled Parliament. Both would typically be considered resignation matters.
Mr Johnson later offered a full apology and said he had paid the fine.
He said when he attended the event, for less than 10 minutes, it had not occurred to him that he was breaking rules. He also said he spoke in good faith when he told parliament there had been no breach of rules, but accepted the police found otherwise.
He said he "accepts in all sincerity that people have the right to expect better”. He dismissed suggestions he should resign, saying he wanted to "get on” with tackling the problems the country faces.
Mr Sunak has faced intense scrutiny in the past week after it was revealed his wife Akshata Murty was a non-domicile who did not pay taxes in the UK on international earnings.
“The prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer have today received notification that the Metropolitan Police intend to issue them with fixed penalty notices,” a spokeswoman for No 10 Downing Street said.
It was later disclosed that the fixed penalty notice was issued to the prime minister in relation to his birthday party on June 19, 2020, which was classified as “a gathering of two or more people indoors". It was held in the Cabinet Room at No 10, where up to 30 people were said to have gathered.
Mrs Johnson, who arranged the surprise party, was also fined for attending and has has already paid.
A representative confirmed that the prime minister's wife, a former director of communications for the Tories, paid the fine “relating to the gathering on the afternoon of June 19 2020” and that while “she believed that she was acting in accordance with the rules at the time”, she “apologises unreservedly”.
It is understood Mrs Johnson briefly attended the Cabinet Room with her newborn baby in her arms during her husband’s lunch break alongside some socially distanced staff.
Because the fixed penalty notice was settled within 14 days, the rate was reduced to £50 ($65).
Most of the people issued with fixed penalty notices have not been named publicly, nor has the event to which those fines relate been disclosed. If paid quickly, fines tend to be £20 ($26) or £50 ($65).
It has not been confirmed which event Mr Sunak was fined for. However, he is known to have attended the birthday gathering.
The trio were among about 30 people to be told about their fixed penalty notices by police investigating the reported lockdown-breaking Covid parties inside British government buildings.
Before the war broke out in Ukraine, Mr Johnson appeared vulnerable to the partygate controversy, in which he has been accused of leading a government that ignored the national Covid restriction rules it forced others to follow. He has been praised for his response to the conflict, which may offer him some protection from critics. He visited Kyiv last weekend in what he called a show of support for the country.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer led renewed calls for both to resign.
“Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have broken the law and repeatedly lied to the British public. They must both resign,” he said.
Matte Fowler, co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said the fines were “indisputable” evidence that there was “rule breaking en masse” in government while families were “unable to be at their loved ones' sides in their last moments”.
“If Boris Johnson had any decency, he would do the right thing and resign immediately,” he said.
London’s Metropolitan Police said it was “making every effort to progress this investigation at speed”, with the possibility of more fines to come.
Mr Johnson is understood to have been present at six of at least 12 events being investigated. There were photos of the prime minister at some of the events, at a time when such gatherings were banned by lockdown laws, with one occurring on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral, at which Queen Elizabeth II had to grieve away from other mourners due to social distancing protocols.
Mrs Johnson, the environmentalist and former director of communications for the Tories, reportedly held an “Abba flat party” on November 13, 2020, apparently to celebrate the prime minister's former chief aide Dominic Cummings being removed from his position.
The penalty for politicians who break the law should be “perhaps even greater” than for members of the public, Tory MP Huw Merriman said.
“It’s essential that we pass laws that we expect people to abide by, because we will do so ourselves as MPs.
“So if we break them, then that means that the penalty for us should be perhaps even greater than it would for those who aren’t making the laws. So yes, there is a problem. There is a perception and it doesn’t help that the entire last six months has been very difficult for Parliament’s reputation.”
Other parties also demanded a quick reaction to the fines.
“These fines expose the shocking scale of the criminality in Boris Johnson’s No 10,” Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said.
“The police have now completely shredded Johnson’s claims that no laws were broken. He cannot be trusted and cannot continue as prime minister.
“No other leader in any other organisation would be allowed to continue after lawbreaking on this scale. If Boris Johnson won’t resign, Conservative MPs must show him the door.”
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called on Mr Johnson to step down. "He broke the law and repeatedly lied to Parliament about it," she said.
“The basic values of integrity and decency — essential to the proper working of any parliamentary democracy — demand that he go. And he should take his out-of-touch chancellor with him.”
Ethics chief fined
The Metropolitan Police said “the investigation into allegations of breaches of Covid-19 regulations in Whitehall and Downing Street continues to progress".
“As of Tuesday, April 12, 2022, we have made over 50 referrals for fixed penalty notices to the Acro Criminal Records Office for breaches of Covid-19 regulations who, following the referral, issue the [notices] to the individual.”
Issuing guidance on why police opted not to name those fined, the Met said they were following advice that “identities of people dealt with by cautions, speeding fines and other fixed penalties — out-of-court disposals — should not be released or confirmed”.
The advice also says that forces should “say that 'a man' or 'a woman' has been dealt with and only release general details of the offence”.
Before Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak's names were made public on Tuesday, the only senior official to have confirmed receiving a notice was former deputy Cabinet secretary and Whitehall ethics chief Helen MacNamara, who said she was “sorry for the error of judgment I have shown”.
Ms MacNamara, who now works for the Premier League, was reported to have received the fine in connection with a leaving party held in the Cabinet Office on June 18, 2020.
The prime minister, speaking in the Commons in December after allegations about parties in Downing Street were first circulated, said “all guidance was followed completely in No 10”.