Boris Johnson defies calls to quit after he and Rishi Sunak fined

Boris Johnson has been given a fixed-penalty notice for breaking his own Covid laws by attending a party for his birthday in No 10, but he has vowed to fight on as prime minister in defiance of furious calls for him to quit.

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, and Johnson’s wife, Carrie, were also penalised for attending the gathering on 19 June 2020 in the cabinet room, with the Metropolitan police saying more than 50 have been issued. All three said they had paid their notices on Tuesday.

Johnson and Sunak are thought to be the first sitting prime minister and chancellor to be criminally sanctioned. Both senior politicians were also accused of misleading parliament by previously denying they had attended parties during lockdown.

However, Sunak made no immediate statement in public, leading some Tory MPs to speculate he could resign following a disastrous week in which his wife’s tax affairs have come under scrutiny. Such a move would put huge pressure on Johnson to follow suit.

Johnson issued a “full apology” and rejected calls to quit, but his position remains in peril in the weeks to come as the police are still investigating up to six further gatherings where he is said to have been present.

In a statement from his Chequers country retreat, Johnson said he “humbly accepted” he had broken the rules, but also claimed the birthday gathering lasted less than 10 minutes and that it “did not occur” to him that the event was wrong. He claimed he had spoken “in good faith” in the House of Commons when he said all rules were followed in Downing Street.

But he added: “I fully respect the outcome of the [police] investigation. I understand the anger that many will feel that I myself fell short when it came to observing the very rules that the government I lead had introduced to protect the public. I accept in all sincerity that people have a right to expect better. Now I feel an even greater sense of obligation to deliver on the priorities of the British people.”

Sunak gave an “unreserved apology” for attending the gathering, saying he deeply regretted “the frustration and anger caused” and confirming the £50 penalty had been paid.

But after hours of silence that prompted Tory MPs to speculate he could quit, the chancellor confirmed he would stay in post, adding: “I am focused on delivering for the British people at this challenging time.”

Sources close to the chancellor denied a report in the Times that he had spent the day considering resigning, but would not comment further on what he had done during the day.

A spokesperson for Carrie Johnson said: “Whilst she believed that she was acting in accordance with the rules at the time, Mrs Johnson accepts the Metropolitan police’s findings and apologises unreservedly.”

Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, called on both the “guilty men”, Johnson and Sunak, to resign for “dishonouring their offices”. He said Johnson had “lied repeatedly to the public” and his behaviour was a “slap in the face” to all those who had followed the rules. “They have to go,” he said.

Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister and SNP leader, also called for the prime minister to quit. “Boris Johnson must resign,” she said. “He broke the law and repeatedly lied to parliament about it. 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.”

Both Labour and the Lib Dems backed calls for a recall of parliament to discuss the penalties but that is likely to be blocked by the government.

It comes after the Met said it had issued more than 50 fixed-penalty notices as a result of its investigation – an increase of 30 since its last update two weeks ago. The police said there was still a “significant amount” of material to assess, raising the prospect that there could be more penalties for the prime minister to come over events such as the drinks party in the No 10 garden organised by Johnson’s then private secretary, Martin Reynolds.

The notices put Johnson’s leadership in renewed trouble, although Johnson’s allies such as Nadine Dorries and Conor Burns rallied round him by issuing supportive messages. Liz Truss, the foreign secretary and a potential future leadership contender, issued a supportive statement, saying Johnson had “apologised and taken responsibility for what happened in Downing Street”.

“He and the chancellor are delivering for Britain on many fronts including on the international security crisis we face. They have my 100% backing,” she said.

Some Conservative MPs previously suggested a line would be crossed by allowing a prime minister to remain in office if he was found to have broken the law. About 20-30 MPs were at one point thought to have submitted letters of no confidence in the prime minister, with 54 needed to trigger a leadership challenge.

However, many of those who had previously submitted letters of no confidence – Sir Roger Gale, Andrew Bridgen, and Douglas Ross – said now was not the time to change leader given the instability caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Others among those who called for Johnson to resign when the pressure on him over Partygate was at its climax in February suggested they thought colleagues would back away from pushing him out now given the conflict in Ukraine. “The war gives others the absolute abdication of responsibility they are desperate for,” one MP said.

One minister called Johnson a “lucky general” and admitted: “I’ve opened the space up for how to explain all this away.” An ally of Johnson’s said they expected the party to try to rally round him, but added that that “depends on deft handling, which doesn’t come naturally to No 10, and good fortune, which does”.

One senior Tory MP who has not yet submitted a no-confidence letter said they suspected colleagues could decide the issuing of a penalty was enough to push 54 people to call for Johnson to go. “I think there will be a vote of no confidence next week,” they said.

If that does not materialise, the prime minister could face a further moment of danger when the Sue Gray report containing details of how the parties unfolded is published, after the police investigation ends.

Alternatively, a bad result for the Conservatives on 5 May in the local elections could also trigger more Tory MPs to lose faith in the prime minister’s ability to command the respect of the country.


Rowena Mason and Aubrey Allegretti

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Lockdown party fines: what next for Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak?
A look at how this all began – and whether Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak will have to resign

Peter Walker Political correspondent

12, Apr, 2022 @7:37 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson could get three more fines over Partygate, say insiders
Several events at No 10 not yet fully investigated by Met police, posing further threat to PM’s position

Jessica Elgot, Aubrey Allegretti and Vikram Dodd

13, Apr, 2022 @9:21 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson must resign if fined for breaching lockdown, says Labour
Angela Rayner increases pressure on PM with Met expected to issue first fines imminently

Jessica Elgot Chief political correspondent

29, Mar, 2022 @8:11 AM

Article image
Rishi Sunak pushing Boris Johnson to relax travel rules
Chancellor urging rethink on border policy amid concerns UK is ‘out of step’ with international competitors

Jessica Elgot Deputy political editor

01, Aug, 2021 @3:35 PM

Article image
Rishi Sunak: crisis after crisis has been ‘not great’ for Boris Johnson
Chancellor promises end to Tory tax rises and hints at help with cost of living in spring statement

Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

18, Mar, 2022 @1:02 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson and Rushi Sunak: timeline of denials
A look at denials made by the prime minister and his chancellor over allegations of lockdown breaches

Tom Ambrose

12, Apr, 2022 @5:49 PM

Article image
Rishi Sunak says pro-Palestine march on Saturday is ‘proof of UK’s commitment to freedom’ – as it happened
Prime minister says he finds prospect of march ‘disrespectful’ but says freedom includes ‘right to peacefully protest’

Andrew Sparrow

08, Nov, 2023 @6:00 PM

Article image
Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak quit – throwing Boris Johnson’s future into doubt
Damning letters from health secretary and chancellor as they resign within minutes of each other

Heather Stewart Political editor, Rowena Mason and Jessica Elgot

05, Jul, 2022 @6:05 PM

Article image
Rishi Sunak breaks silence with ‘unreserved apology’; Boris Johnson says he has paid Partygate fine – as it happened
Latest updates: Chancellor and PM’s wife, Carrie Johnson, also said to have paid fines for lockdown breaches

Tom Ambrose (now) and Andrew Sparrow (earlier)

12, Apr, 2022 @9:05 PM

Article image
Rishi Sunak faces Tory civil war as he holds off sacking Suella Braverman
Home secretary’s allies claim over 50 MPs are backing her but moderate Tories say PM must take action

Rowena Mason, Rajeev Syal, Daniel Boffey and Peter Walker

10, Nov, 2023 @7:03 PM