UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has apologised for breaking the law after he was issued with a fine due to the lockdown partygate scandal but he has refused calls to resign.
The prime minister said it “didn't occur” to him that the gathering in the Cabinet Room on June 19, 2020, that marked his 56th birthday was a breach of coronavirus rules.
Mr Johnson is the first sitting prime minister to be censured for breaking the law, sparking calls from all sides of Parliament, including some in his own party, to step down.
His wife, Carrie, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were also fined for lockdown parties held in and around Downing Street, where they all live and work.
“Today I've received a fixed penalty notice from the Metropolitan Police relating to an event in Downing Street on June 19, 2020," Mr Johnson said.
“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.
“My day began shortly after 7am and I chaired eight meetings in Number 10, including the Cabinet committee deciding Covid strategy.
“I visited a school in Hemel Hempstead, which took me out of Downing Street for over four hours.
"And among all these engagements on a day that happened to be my birthday, there was a brief gathering in the Cabinet Room shortly after 2pm, lasting for less than 10 minutes, during which people I work with kindly passed on their good wishes.
“And 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.”
He said he took “full responsibility for everything” but that he “couldn't be everywhere at once” when asked about the widespread nature of the gatherings across Whitehall.
“Of course I take full responsibility for everything, but don't forget the Downing Street is about, you know, 15,000 square feet. It's got a lot of officials working in it — hundreds and hundreds of officials, I couldn't be everywhere at once.
“But clearly, once it became obvious what had been happening, the types of behaviour that unfortunately, sadly, we'd seen, we've taken steps to change things and Downing Street has been radically transformed.
“It's a much … it's a very different organisation and we're focusing 100 per cent on delivering our agenda.”
Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party backed calls to recall Parliament from its Easter break time.
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, and he visited Kyiv last weekend in what he called a show of support for the country.
Mr Sunak has faced intense scrutiny in the past week after it was revealed that his wife Akshata Murty was a non-domicile who did not pay taxes in the UK on international earnings.
It has not been confirmed which event Mr Sunak was fined for but he is known to have attended the birthday gathering as well.
Mr Sunak offered a “unreserved apology” and indicated that he would stay in his job.
“I can confirm I have received a fixed penalty notice from the Metropolitan Police with regards to a gathering held on June 19 in Downing Street," he said.
“I offer an unreserved apology.
“I understand that for figures in public office, the rules must be applied stringently in order to maintain public confidence. I respect the decision that has been made and have paid the fine.
“I know people sacrificed a great deal during Covid and they will find this situation upsetting. I deeply regret the frustration and anger caused and I am sorry.
“Like the prime minister, I am focused on delivering for the British people at this challenging time.”
Ms Johnson, who arranged the surprise birthday party for her husband, was also fined for attending and has already paid.
A representative confirmed that the prime minister's wife, a former director of communications for the Conservatives, 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 Ms 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 the notices have not been identified publicly, nor has the event to which those fines relate been disclosed. If paid quickly, fines tend to be £20 or £50.
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,” Mr Starmer said.
Mr Johnson is understood to have been present at six of at least 12 events being investigated.
There were photos of him at some of the events, at a time when such gatherings were banned by lockdown laws.
One occurred on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral, at which Queen Elizabeth II had to grieve away from other mourners because of social distancing protocols.
Ms Johnson also 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," Mr Merriman said.
“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.”
Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden said in a tweet. “The prime minister has provided a full explanation and apology for what happened in Downing Street.
“At a time when we face an energy crisis and conflict in Ukraine, I’m fully behind him in getting on with the job.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps tweeted: “At end of 2020 I was unable to visit my dad in hospital for [four months], so I share the anger felt about Downing fines.
“But I also recognise PM has apologised, accepted responsibility and reformed No 10. Now, as he leads the West’s response to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s evil war, he has my full support.”
A critic of Mr Johnson said the prime minister should not be unseated while the Ukraine conflict rages on.
Veteran Conservative Sir Roger Gale has previously called for Mr Johnson to resign over the partygate allegations but said the news of his being fined should not distract from confronting Russia.
“It’s serious of course,” said Mr Gale, MP for North Thanet.
“My position remains that the fact that the prime minister has effectively misled the House of Commons is a very serious issue indeed.
"But we are in the middle of an international crisis and I am not prepared to give Vladimir Putin the comfort of thinking that we are about to unseat the prime minister of the United Kingdom and destabilise the coalition against [him].”
Mr Gale, speaking before the PM made his statement, said Mr Johnson should acknowledge that he had been “patently wrong” to previously suggest that “no rules were broken and nothing untoward took place”.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross echoed those sentiments, saying it “wouldn’t be right” to remove the prime minister during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Mr Ross had previously submitted a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson’s leadership — a method used for toppling a Tory leader — but withdrew it after the outbreak of war in Eastern Europe.
Other senior Tories to offer their backing to the under-fire leader include Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries.
However, political critics have piled on the pressure for Mr Johnson to walk away from the top job after the police decision to issue him with a fine.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the prime minister and chancellor “must resign now”.
“The prime minister repeatedly misled Parliament, lied to the public and at times even simply laughed it off, taking the public for fools,” Mr Blackford said.
“In reality, Johnson and Sunak have overseen one of the biggest lockdown breaches that has led to the Metropolitan Police issuing a staggering number of fines for rule-breaking.”
“The rest of us followed the rules and made sacrifices out of a sense of duty and because it was the right thing to do,” said Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader.
“I am appalled at the sheer bad judgment which can only be attributed to an arrogant sense of exceptionalism and a belief in their own entitlement, regardless of their responsibilities as leaders. Parliament must be recalled.
“If they have any honour, they will both resign.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called for Parliament to be recalled from its Easter recess to allow for a no-confidence vote in the prime minister to be held, a demand that Labour has echoed.
Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy reiterated Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s call for Mr Johnson to quit.
He tweeted: “Criminality and lies at the heart of government. Led by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor.
“Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak must resign now for breaking the laws they enforced on us all.”
Sadiq Khan, who succeeded Mr Johnson as London mayor, said the prime minister “isn’t fit for office”.
“Families made huge sacrifices and obeyed the law. Many said their last goodbyes to loved ones on the phone while the prime minister partied,” he tweeted.
“Boris Johnson must resign.”