Dominic Raab has said the prime minister should not have to resign after receiving a fine for not wearing a seatbelt in a moving car.
The deputy prime minister said Rishi Sunak had the “highest standards of integrity” and had shown “accountability” by apologising for not wearing his seatbelt, which resulted in the police issuing a fixed-penalty notice – his second in nine months after his Covid lockdown breach.
Senior figures in the Labour party joined critics accusing the prime minister of showing “the same disregard for the rules” as his predecessor, Boris Johnson.
Raab told Sky News on Saturday morning that the issue was not a resigning matter.
“Of course it shouldn’t have happened,” he said. “I think, look, given the circumstances, I don’t think it’s something which would result in his resignation.”
Speaking later to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Raab said of Sunak: “He is someone with the highest standards of integrity. He has made a mistake on the seatbelt issue, he put his hand straight up, he said: ‘Look, this is wrong, I apologise’. He’s going to pay the fixed-penalty notice.
“He’s a human being doing an incredibly demanding job. But that’s no excuse, as he’s made clear, and he’s put his hand up and said: ‘This is wrong and I’m apologising for it’. I think that’s the accountability and that’s the transparency.”
The incident has been described by Downing Street as “an error of judgment”. Asked how many such errors Sunak was allowed, Raab said: “Ultimately, that will be for the people of this country to decide at the next election.
“There’s not some algorithm, you know, human nature doesn’t work that way.”
Lancashire constabulary announced on Friday it was fining the prime minister after he was spotted not wearing his seatbelt in an Instagram video filmed to promote levelling up funding a day earlier.
Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, accused Sunak of displaying a “lack of judgment” having received his second fixed-penalty notice in less than a year.
She told BBC Breakfast: “The fact that he’s had two fixed-penalty notices in nine months, I think, shows a lack of judgment on his behalf, especially as chancellor and then as the prime minister.
“And I think he should use this opportunity to highlight that safety does matter in vehicles.”
Asked if she had ever got in a taxi and not put a seatbelt on, she told BBC Breakfast: “I can’t say categorically I haven’t.
“But one thing I will say – let me be positive on this and then serious – positively, this has shone a light on why those seatbelts are necessary, and the safety of people in the back of taxis, in the back of cars and the importance of that.”
Sunak is the second prime minister in history, after Johnson, to receive a police fine while in the top job.
The incident, which happened at the same time as it was revealed the Tory party chair, Nadhim Zahawi, agreed to pay a penalty to HMRC as part of a seven-figure settlement over his tax affairs, prompted the Labour MP Chris Bryant to call for a general election.
“Sunak promised honesty, integrity and accountability on the steps of Number 10,” he tweeted. “Not only has he been fined again for breaking the law, but Zahawi has been fined as well. It’s time they all went. It’s time for a general election.”