Boris Johnson braced for more Partygate fines after justice minister resigns

Conservative MPs are so far backing their leader and downplaying the seriousness of his offending

A protester holds up a placard of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak outside Downing Street. EPA

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson could face more fines over partygate lawbreaking, with pressure growing after Justice Minister David Wolfson resigned.

Lord Wolfson cited the “scale, context and nature” of the lawbreaking when he quit on Wednesday, but a large number of Conservative MPs still back their leader and are downplaying the seriousness of his offences.

Mr Johnson is reported to have attended six of 12 events under investigation. In some of those cases fines have already been issued, but some are still going through the system.

Political sources inside Downing Street fear there could be three more fines for Mr Johnson in the partygate investigation pipeline. He also faces a potential parliamentary investigation over whether his comments on the lockdown parties misled Parliament.

“I know it always makes everybody frustrated. There is a difference between misleading and deliberately misleading.” Wales Secretary Simon Hart said.

“Different MPs and others will come to different conclusions. But I think there are also quite a lot of people who are looking at this as one problem, if you like, because all these things allegedly happened around the same time,” he said.

“They were entered into, as it turns out, as a sort of misjudged way but at the time, and as reported, they were not considered to be offences.

“So for me, it doesn't make a lot of difference whether it's one or three. Others will take a different view. But, as I say, I think the correct sanction is a fixed penalty notice.

“I don't think fixed penalty notices should include automatic sacking for people who happen to be in public life.”

On Tuesday, Mr Johnson, his wife Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were issued with fixed penalty notice (FPN) fines for attending a birthday party for the prime minister while lockdown orders were in force.

Operation Hillman, the police investigation of possible Covid-19 breaches in Downing Street and Whitehall, has issued more than 50 fines since the inquiry started.

The FPNs received by Mr and Mrs Johnson and Mr Sunak were in relation to the June 2020 birthday gathering at which, according to Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns, Mr Johnson was “ambushed with a cake”.

Reports have suggested up to 30 people attended the do and sang Happy Birthday in the Cabinet Room.

The progress of the police inquiry will again raise the spectre of the Sue Gray report, a dossier on the gatherings compiled by senior official Ms Gray, which was stymied by the launch of the investigation by the Metropolitan Police.

Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative MP for Bournemouth East, is one of the few Tory MPs calling for Mr Johnson to resign.

“I think the prime minister has made his intentions clear – he wants to stay – but this is bigger than the prime minister,” he said.

“It's about the reputation of the party, for which all colleagues must defend, and I believe he owes it to the parliamentary party, once the reports have concluded and the local elections have allowed the public view to be factored in, to agree to hold his own vote of confidence if those elections go badly.”

He insisted that the war in Ukraine – one of the reasons cited for keeping Mr Johnson in place – was no reason to delay.

“There's not going to be a lull in the fighting, no pause just around the corner, for us to take stock of domestic matters,” he said. “Every month, every year, European security is going to deteriorate well beyond Ukraine, and history anyway shows that we can and do replace leaders in times of crisis.”

The Scottish National Party’s leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford, said Mr Johnson’s position is “no longer tenable”.

“Everybody knows that parties were taking place at 10 Downing Street, everybody knows that the prime minister has been convicted.

“We can talk about parliamentary procedure and the fact he has broken the ministerial code as a consequence of his behaviour.

“But the fundamental point here is we have the first prime minister in history who has been found guilty of breaking the law.”

Updated: April 14, 2022, 9:37 AM