That’s it from a busy night in Westminster. Thanks for following along and do join us again tomorrow for Prime Minister’s Questions and, inevitably, more on those Partygate penalties.
It’s goodnight from me, Tom Ambrose. It seems appropriate to finish the blog tonight on this compilation of denials from the prime minister, following today’s confirmation that he and his chancellor, Rishi Sunak, did break their own laws during lockdown.
The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has said Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak “have to go”, calling them “guilty men” after the two were given fixed-penalty notices over parties held in Downing Street when government rules forbade gatherings during the Covid lockdown.
A Tory MP was “factually incorrect” to compare Boris Johnson’s attendance at a birthday bash in Downing Street to nurses having a drink at the end of their shift, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said.
The prime minister has paid a penalty in relation to the gathering in the Cabinet Room on 19 June 2020 to mark his 56th birthday as it was a violation of coronavirus rules, PA Media reported.
Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant had earlier told BBC News:
I don’t think at any time he thought he was breaking the law... he thought just like many teachers and nurses who after a very long shift would go back to the staff room and have a quiet drink.
Writing to him, Pat Cullen, general secretary of the RCN, said:
We remain at the forefront of pandemic response. Despite political narrative, as health and care professionals we know the Covid-19 context is nowhere near over. While you position yourself with some authority as to the behaviour and actions of nurses during the pandemic, I’d like to inform you of the following facts.
Throughout the pandemic - and still certainly, now - most days, nurses and nursing support workers, when finally finishing a number of unpaid hours well past shift end, will get home, clean their uniforms, shower and collapse into bed.
Throughout the early pandemic, this was often alone, for the protection of others - kept away from family, friends and support networks. These shifts - in communities, in hospitals, anywhere people are - are long, unrelenting, understaffed and intense.
At the end of one of the many hours, days and years we have worked, since recognition of the pandemic, I can assure you that none of us have sought to hang out and ‘have a quiet one in the staff room.’ There isn’t a site in England that would allow alcohol on the premises for any professional to consume during working hours.
As frontline professionals, still dealing with the implications of the pandemic - understaffed, underpaid, overworked, exhausted, burnt out and still holding it together while doing the best we can for our patients. It is utterly demoralising - and factually incorrect - to hear you suggest that our diligent, safety critical profession can reasonably be compared to any elected official breaking the law, at any time.
Fabricant was talking about the incident in which the prime minister took part in a gathering of two or more people indoors, which was banned at the time.
As you might expect, Boris Johnson’s most loyal supporters are continuing to come out in support of the prime minister.
In typical style, Jacob Rees-Mogg has been quick to dismiss Partygate once again and seeks to mind people “there is a war on”.
This ought to close this matter. There is a war on and the prime minister, supported by the chancellor, provides the leadership the nation needs.
Meanwhile, transport secretary, Grant Shapps, tweeted:
At end of 2020 I was unable to visit my dad in hospital for 4mths, so share the anger felt about Downing St fines.
But I also recognize [sic] PM has apologised, accepted responsibility & reformed No10. Now, as he leads the West’s response to Putin’s evil war he has my full support.
Echoing his colleagues, the Conservative party chairman, Oliver Dowden, tweeted:
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.
Sunak issues apology and says he 'regrets frustration and anger caused'
Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has issued what he describes as an “unreserved apology” after he received a fine for breaching Covid regulations.
In a statement issued this evening, he said he understands “that for figures in public office the rules must be applied stringently in order to maintain public confidence”.
The chancellor said:
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.
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.
Rishi Sunak has paid the fixed-penalty notice he received over the Partygate saga, the PA Media news agency understands.
The chancellor was issued with the fine at the same time as the prime minister, Boris Johnson, and his wife Carrie, both of whom have also paid.
Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, has questioned why the chancellor has not yet spoken about receiving a fixed-penalty notice.
Both the prime minister and his wife have issued statements following their fines over Partygate.
But Rishi Sunak is yet to comment, although the PA news agency understands he has paid his fine. Rayner said:
Rishi Sunak’s silence is bizarre.
After a week of torrid headlines for the chancellor, you would think he might have something to say to the British public.
While people made huge sacrifices and followed the rules, Rishi Sunak broke the law. He should resign.
Sunak has paid his Partygate fine – PA
Rishi Sunak has paid the penalty he received over the Partygate saga, the PA Media news agency understands.
The chancellor was issued with the notice at the same time as the prime minister, Boris Johnson, and his wife Carrie, both of whom have also paid.
The Labour MP Chris Bryant has joined David Lammy is arguing against the claim that the UK cannot change prime minister because of the war in Ukraine.
He tweeted several examples of when Britain has changed prime minister during wartime – and it a pretty extensive list.
Boris Johnson’s foreign secretary, Liz Truss, has leapt to his defence this evening, claiming he is “delivering for Britain”.
The prime minister has 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 is coincidentally also the bookies’ favourite to be the next Conservative party leader and UK prime minister, as short as 4/1 with some outlets.
'You paid a fine, our loved ones paid with their lives'
The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice have just released an emotional statement criticising Boris Johnson following his fixed-penalty notice for breaking coronavirus laws.
In an open letter to the prime minister, the group says:
You broke those laws intended to keep us safe. You trampled on the sacrifices we and all the British public made.
You paid a fine. Our loved ones paid with their lives.
If a new variant emerges how will you have the moral authority to impose any measures needed to protect the public?
Read the full letter here.
David Lammy has expanded on his view that Boris Johnson should leave No 10.
Referencing wider issues of populism and the type of politics promoted by the former US president Donald Trump, he says:
If you are found to have breached the law, then of course you should [resign].
I do not want to live in a country where populism is everything, where Donald Trump’s set of rules rule the way and where you can break the rules, apparently say you are sorry but effectively take the British public for fools.
For all of those reasons, it is unconscionable that now Boris Johnson and his chancellor remain in office as if nothing happened.
Asked if there is any credibility to the Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross’s point that Johnson should remain in post because of the war in Ukraine, Lammy adds:
He has no point at all. In fact, overnight there has been some discussion about whether parliament should be recalled if chemical weapons were used in Ukraine and we in fact find out that there were Tory whips suggesting it should not be recalled because they don’t want to discuss Partygate.
Let me just say very clearly; the second world war remains the most major event that affected Europe in the last 100 years and ... Churchill replaced Chamberlain. The Battle of the Somme saw more British soldiers die than at any point over the last century and, at that point, Lloyd George replaced Asquith. Of course we have lost prime ministers during wartime, in fact in Afghanistan we had changes of prime minister.
The shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, has become the latest in a long line of opposition politicians calling on the prime minister to resign.
He evoked memories of his own personal experiences during the pandemic, as well as the experiences of “millions” of others across the UK.
The Labour frontbencher told Sky News:
He says it didn’t occur to him that he had broken the rules. It occurred to millions of your listeners when they couldn’t attend care homes to visit their loved ones, it occurred to them when they couldn’t hold the hands of loved ones in hospital, some of them losing their lives, it occurred to them when they couldn’t attend funerals.
It certainly occurred to me when I did not have birthday parties for my three children or I couldn’t be with my great-uncle, who died at the age of 100 because of the pandemic.
This is taking people for fools. What is clear is that he broke the rules, he breached the law, he has now been subject to a criminal sanction, he broke the ministerial code and he lied to Parliament ... in our system, when you break just one of those rules then you should resign.
A number of Boris Johnson’s loyalists among his cabinet have come out tonight in support of the prime minister – despite him being found to have broken the laws he wrote.
The secretary of state for Scotland, Alister Jack, said Boris Johnson remained the right person to lead the country.
The prime minister has, rightly, apologised and accepted responsibility for actions which he knows have angered a great many people.
However, he remains the right person to lead this country at such a crucial time and we need to get behind him so that he can focus on dealing with the appalling situation in Ukraine and on delivering for everyone in this country.
Treasury minister Simon Clarke has give his “full support” to both the prime minister and chancellor.
Clarke said on Twitter:
The PM and chancellor have my full support. Their efforts during the pandemic have ensured the UK is now free of restrictions and avoided economic catastrophe. I for one am grateful to them for everything they have done for our country.
The PM has apologised and accepted the police’s decision today. He has accepted Sue Gray’s recommendations in full and instituted a comprehensive programme of reform in No 10. It’s time to get on with the job of governing at a crucial time at home and abroad.
He is now being questioned on the number of denials he has made since the Partygate allegations first emerged.
Johnson insists he was not lying when he denied breaking the law because he spoke in “completely good faith”.
When I said that, I spoke in completely good faith because, as I’ve said to you just now, at the time I was standing up for nine minutes in the cabinet room where I work every day, it didn’t occur to me that I was in breach of the rules. I now humbly accept that I was.
I think the best thing I can do now, having settled the fine, is focus on the job in hand. That’s what I’m going to do.
The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed the prime minister has revised the time he says spent at his own birthday party down from 10 minutes to just nine minutes during this interview.
Asked if he expects to receive more penalties from the police, he says:
You know, I, I … if there are, I’m sure that you will be the first to know. Or amongst the very first to know.
Despite being obviously uncomfortable answering the question about more fines potentially coming his way, it is worth noting that Johnson shook his head while giving the above answer.
And, with that, the interview is over. I’m sure there will be plenty of reaction from that coming shortly – stay tuned.
Johnson is told that of course this wasn’t an isolated incident and there have been 50 fixed-penalty notices issued by the police so far.
He is asked if he takes responsibility for a culture at Downing Street where people thought this kind of behaviour was acceptable.
The prime minister replies that he takes “full responsibility”. However, due to the square footage of No 10, “he can’t be everywhere at once”. He says:
Of course I take full responsibility for everything … but don’t forget Downing Street is about 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 we had seen, we have taken steps to change things.
Downing Street has been radically transformed, it’s a very different organisation and we are focusing 100% on delivering our agenda.
Asked if he will resign, Johnson says he will 'get on' with his job
When asked if he will resign after becoming the first prime minister to have broken the law, Johnson says:
I have, of course, paid the FPN and I apologise once again for the mistake that I made and, as I said just now, I want to be able to get on and deliver the mandate that I have but also to tackle the problems that the country must face right now and make sure that we get on with delivering for the people of this country. That is my priority.
Johnson is reminded by the interviewer that the problem he faces is a lack of trust in him. He is asked if the fact he broke his own laws diminishes his respect among the public.
He says once again:
I believe it is my job to get on and deliver for the people of this country and that’s what I’m going to do.
Boris Johnson has said that he understands the anger people will feel that he “fell short” when it came to keeping to the law.
Amid calls for him to resign, he says this experience has only made him more determined to level up across the UK and ensure Russia’s war on Ukraine does not succeed.
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 introduced to protect the public and I accept, in all sincerity, that people have the right to expect better.
Now I feel an even greater sense of obligation to deliver on the priorities of the British people, strengthening our economy, creating jobs and opportunities, levelling up across the whole of the United Kingdom and now, of course, ensuring Putin fails in Ukraine and easing the burden on hard-working families caused by higher energy prices.
I will take forward that task with due humility but with maximum determination to fulfil my duty and do what is best for the country I serve. Thanks very much.
Now for some questions.
The prime minister says he wants to explain events of that day “in the spirit of openness and humility”.
He says his day began at 7am when he chaired eight meetings inside No 10 and visited a school in Hemel Hempstead for four hours.
He goes on:
Amongst 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.
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 - but, of course, the police have found otherwise and I fully respect the outcome of their investigation.
The prime minister, despite being penalised for his actions, still appears to be confused about what - if anything - he did wrong, it would seem from his statement so far.
Johnson: I have paid lockdown fine and apologise once again
The prime minister Boris Johnson is speaking from his Chequers residency about the penalty from the Metropolitan police for breaking lockdown laws.
He starts by saying:
Today I’ve received a fixed-penalty notice from the Metropolitan police relating to an event in Downing Street on 19 June 2020.
Let me say immediately I have paid the fine and I once again offer a full apology.
Savanta ComRes has also released the results of a snap poll on Boris Johnson and, like YouGov (see 5.16pm), it says more than half of people think he should resign. But it says that this is slightly lower than the equivalent figure on the day the Sue Gray report was published. It says:
Three in five (61%) UK adults say that the prime minister should resign now that he has been issued with a fixed penalty notice in relation to the Partygate scandal, according to a snap poll by Savanta ComRes.
Around one in three (31%) believe that the PM should not resign, including half (52%) of those that voted Conservative at the last general election.
Crucially, though, the proportion that say he should resign now is marginally less than the 69% who said that the PM should resign after the publication of Sue Gray’s initial findings in January.
And this is from Chris Hopkins, political research director at the company.
The fact here that a smaller proportion of the public think the PM should resign now than did in January, despite being issued with a fixed penalty notice, feels crucial, and will potentially make Conservative MPs think twice before writing any letters of no confidence. There’s an implication in these findings that the worst is over when it comes to Partygate and, although I’m not sure that’s strictly true, the impact that these fines will have is perhaps less than what we would have thought earlier in the year.
That is all from me for tonight. My colleague Tom Ambrose is taking over now.
Johnson reportedly set 'to pay fine without challenging it'
Boris Johnson will pay his penalty, and won’t contest it, the Telegraph reports.
This was implicit in what his supporters have been saying earlier.
Earlier this year Sir Roger Gale was one of the Tory MPs saying Boris Johnson should resign. But now not only is he saying (like other Johnsonsceptic Conservatives) that it would be wrong to get rid of the prime minister now; on Radio 4’s PM programme Gale said that Keir Starmer was being “wildly irresponsible” in calling for his resignation. Gale said:
I believe that the leader of the opposition, for example, has acted wildly responsibly in the international interests in calling for the prime minister’s resignation at a time when the prime minister is seeking to lead this country, and the coalition actually, through a very, very difficult and dangerous set of circumstances.
Asked when it would be right to replace Johnson, Gale replied:
Once we have a resolution to the international crisis, once we have a resolution to the situation in Ukraine, then we can allow ourselves the luxury of addressing domestic issues like this, but now is absolutely not the moment.
Gale also implied that he thought Johnson had lied to the Commons about the No 10 parties. But he also claimed that the convention that a minister who lies to the Commons should resign “went out of the window some time ago”. Priti Patel, the home secretary, misled MPs about a visa centre in Calais, but did not resign, he said.
In fact, it is not a convention; it is rule number three in the ministerial code.
Dorries claims PM has already explained lockdown-busting birthday party that lasted 'less than 10 minutes'
Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, is probably more loyal to Boris Johnson than anyone else in cabinet. She likes him personally (her Commons office was close to him at one point) and under any other leader should probably have never made it to cabinet. She has posted this on Twitter.
This seems yet more evidence that Johnson intends to pivot straight from ‘I’ll address this when the investigation is over’ to ‘I’ve apologise already’.
In fact, Johnson has not been clear about what happened at the surprise birthday party, because he has refused to answer questions on it. And previous reports have said it lasted for between 20 and 30 minutes.
Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, says Boris Johnson must resign.
Ruth Davidson, the former Scottish Conservative leader, says Boris Johnson should resign now.
75% of Britons think Johnson lied about breaking lockdown rules, and 57% think he should resign, poll suggests
According to a snap YouGov poll, 75% of Britons think Boris Johnson lied about breaking lockdown rules, and 57% think he should resign.
Keir Starmer has told broadcasters that Boris Johnson is the first prime minister in British history to have broken the law and “lied repeatedly” about it. He told broadcasters:
The British public made the most unimaginable, heart-wrenching sacrifices, and many were overcome by guilt. Guilt at not seeing elderly relatives, not going to funerals or weddings, or even seeing the birth of their own children.
But the guilty men are the prime minister and the chancellor. They’ve dishonoured all of that sacrifice, they’ve dishonoured their office.
This is the first time in the history of our country that a prime minister has been found to be in breach of the law, and then he lied repeatedly to the public about it.
Britain deserves better, they have to go.
And this is from Amanda Milling, a Foreign Office minister and former Conservative party co-chair. Milling has been a close ally of Johnson’s for years (she was one of the team that ran his leadership bid in 2016) and she is using the same script at James Duddridge. (See 5.06pm.)
The Conservative MP James Duddridge has posted this on Twitter. It is the Johnson loyalist take - which is what you would expect because Duddridge is one of the parliamentary private secretaries to the prime minister.
Johnson is expected to record a clip for broadcasters this evening and this tweet may give a clue as to what he will say.
In the past Johnson has said he will discuss the Partygate affair properly once the investigation is over. Duddridge suggests that today Johnson may focus on saying that he has already apologised, and that it is time to move on.
The Duddridge tweet also suggests that Johnson is not planning to contest the Met’s decision to penalise him.
Johnson says his 'focus' remains on supporting Ukraine
Boris Johnson (or his social media apparatchik) has issued a tweet saying his “focus” remains on supporting Ukraine.
POTUS is Joe Biden, president of the United States. The call was probably scheduled before Boris Johnson learned he was being penalised by the Met today, but this call, and this message, bolsters the argument being used by Tory MPs to explain why they think the PM should stay in office.
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross says replacing Johnson would take 'several months'
In an interview with Sky News Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader (who earlier this year called for Boris Johnson to resign over Partygate), refused to say whether he would be happy for Johnson to lead the party into the next election. “I’m not getting into hypotheticals,” he said. Sarah-Jane Mee pointed out, quite rightly, that it’s not a hypothetical because there will be an election. But despite that she failed to get an answer.
Ross used the interview to repeat what he said in his statement earlier (see 3.54pm) about it being wrong to replace the PM while a war was taking place in Europe.
When it was put to him that the Conservative party replaced their prime minister in 1940, during the second world war, Ross said the party rules were different then and that now, because members voted for the leader, getting a new leader would take “several months”.
The Labour party is backing the calls from the Lib Dems (see 2.31pm) and the SNP (see 4.17pm) for an early recall of parliament. A Labour spokesperson said:
Johnson promised he would give a statement to the House of Commons, so we want to hear from the prime minister at the earliest possible opportunity to give him the chance to correct his lies and tender his resignation.
Obviously it is only the government who actually has the power to ask the Speaker to recall parliament.
It is understood that detectives working on Partygate are expecting to issue more penalties to those who attended parties in Downing Street and Whitehall during coronavirus restrictions.
In the last fortnight the Met team identified 30 more people to be referred for fixed-penalty notices, having announced two weeks ago an initial tranche of 20 fines.
The Met still has “significant amounts” of potentially incriminating material to examine, then match that up against what rules were in place at the time, before referring people for potential fines to the criminal records office known as Acro.
No 10 confirms Johnson and Sunak being fined in connection with surprise birthday party for PM
Downing Street has issued a statement confirming that Boris Johnson is being issued a fixed-penalty notice in relation to the surprise birthday party organised for him on 19 June 2020. A No 10 spokesperson said:
The Met police have now explained that the FPN issued to the PM will be in relation to the following incident: “On 19th June 2020 at the Cabinet Room 10 Downing Street between 1400 and 1500 you participated in a gathering of two or more people indoors in the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street.”
This is what we expected. But the Met has said that further penalties may be issued (see 11.43am) and so it is not necessarily the case that these will be the last fines issued to Johnson, or his wife Carrie. (Rishi Sunak is not thought to have attended any other Partygate events, so this probably is his only one.)
It does seem as if the Met are working through cases event by event, rather than individual by individual.
SNP's Ian Blackford says Ukraine war strengthens case for replacing Johnson
Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, told BBC News that he is calling for parliament to be recalled on Thursday. He said Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak should use that sitting to announce their resignations.
Asked to respond to the claims from Tory MPs that it would be wrong to remove the PM during an international crisis, Blackford replied:
That’s precisely why he should go, because there’s a cross-party consensus. We have our allies across the western world that are resolute in supporting our friends in Ukraine. But we cannot do when we have at the head of our government someone who is prepared to break the law, someone prepared to lie to parliament. He is a stain on our public life, he is a stain on our parliament. He needs to go and he needs to be replaced.
Blackford also pointed out that Neville Chamberlain was replaced as prime minister by Winston Churchill in 1940, while the second world war was under way, “because he was not considered to be fit for purpose”.
From Sky’s Sam Coates
Here is the Sky spreadsheet mentioned earlier (see 3.44pm) - still empty.
Ukraine war means Johnson should stay for now, PM's leading Tory critics say
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, was the most senior Conservative MP to publicly call for Boris Johnson’s resignation over Partygate earlier this year. But, like Andrew Bridgen, he subsequently withdrew his letter calling for a no-confidence vote following the invasion of Ukraine.
Like Roger Gale (see 3.07pm), Ross is saying this afternoon that, because of the war, it would be wrong for Johnson to go now. Ross said in a statement:
The public are rightly furious at what happened in Downing Street during the pandemic. I understand why they are angry and share their fury. The behaviour was unacceptable. The prime minister now needs to respond to these fines being issued.
However, as I’ve made very clear, in the middle of war in Europe, when Vladimir Putin is committing war crimes and the UK is Ukraine’s biggest ally, as President Zelenskiy said at the weekend, it wouldn’t be right to remove the prime minister at this time.
It would destabilise the UK government when we need to be united in the face of Russian aggression and the murdering of innocent Ukrainians.
Tory MP Michael Fabricant claims 'many teachers and nurses' broke lockdown rules with post-work drinking like PM
Sam Coates at Sky News says they have opened a spreadsheet to keep a tally of how long it takes for Tory MPs to post messages on Twitter showing their support for Boris Johnson. The document is fairly empty at the moment.
But Michael Fabricant, the backbench MP for Lichfield, has given an interview to BBC News that will earn him a place on the spreadsheet. But in the past Fabricant’s pro-Johnson interventions on Partygate have not always been persuasive, and this afternoon he was at it again.
Fabricant said he thought that Boris Johnson would have to come to the Commons on Tuesday, when parliament returns after the Easter holiday, to apologise. But he went on:
Having said that, I don’t think that at any time [Johnson] thought that he was breaking the law. I think that at the time he thought, just like many teachers and nurses who after a very, very long shift would tend to go back to the staff room and have a quiet drink - which is more or less what he has done - but I don’t think he thought he was breaking the law. But of course that doesn’t make any sort of excuse.
When the BBC presenter Shaun Ley challenged Fabricant over his claim that many teachers and nurses were breaking lockdown rules with post-work drinking, Fabricant said he knew personally of some who did this. “It’s quite natural,” he said. He said he was not accusing them of partying, and he was not saying they were doing anything wrong in having a drink after their shift. “They’ve worked really hard on a long shift and would go back to the staff room and have a drink, and I think that is more or less what has happened on a few of these occasions that we’ve heard about,” he said.
The Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale has told Sky News that although he is not calling for Boris Johnson’s resignation now, because of the Ukraine war (see 3.07pm), he does expect Johnson to be gone before the general election. This is from Sky’s Sam Coates.
Andrew Bridgen was another of the Tory MPs who earlier this year publicly called for Boris Johnson’s resignation over Partygate. Last month he announced he had withdrawn the letter he had sent to the chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee demanding a no-confidence vote. Now he is going to take soundings before deciding what to do next, Lucy Fisher from Times Radio reports.
Sir Roger Gale, who was one of the first Conservative MPs to publicly call for Boris Johnson to resign over Partygate earlier this year, has said that he does not think the PM should go now, because of the Ukraine crisis, the Telegraph reports. Gale said:
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 Putin.
And this is from Gavin Barwell, Theresa May’s former chief of staff at No 10 (and no fan of Boris Johnson’s), who has a similar view to Robert Peston (see 2.57pm) as to what’s at stake.
Robert Peston, ITV’s political editor and one of the most experienced political journalists at Westminster, says the checks and balances in the British constitution – ie the mechanisms supposedly in place to protect politics from rogues – are about to undergo their biggest test for half a century.
Plaid Cymru is saying Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak should both resign. This is from its Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts.
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. I am appalled at the sheer bad judgement 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.
On Sky News Jon Craig has just pointed out that Rishi Sunak told MPs in December last year, in response to a question about Partygate: “No, I did not attend any parties.” But Sunak was responding to a specific question from Labour’s Karl Turner about whether or not he had attended Christmas parties on 27 November or 18 December 2020. It seems Sunak is being fined because of his attendance (inadvertently, it has been claimed) at a surprise birthday party for the PM in June 2020.
The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group says Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have both lost all credibility with the public and should resign.
These are from my colleague Jessica Elgot.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has joined those calling for Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak to resign.
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, is calling for the recall of parliament so that MPs can debate a motion of no confidence in Boris Johnson.
This is not going to happen because parliament only gets recalled at the request of the PM.
Partygate fines for Johnson and Sunak - what happens next?
We don’t know why the Met is fining Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak over Partygate, but since the only Partgate event that Sunak is known to have attended was the surprise birthday celebration for Johnson in June 2020.
It was said to have been organised by the PM’s wife, Carrie Johnson. According to a report by Pippa Crerar at the Daily Mirror, the PM’s official photographer took pictures, and the police have photographs of Johnson at the event “raising his can of Estrella beer towards the camera in a toast”. Sunak, who is teetotal, was drinking a soft drink.
Many Tory MPs said earlier this year they would postpone a decision about whether or not to force Johnson out of office until they knew for sure whether or not the PM was being fined. Some said a PM shown to have broken the law cannot remain in the office.
But context frames everything, and it is not at all sure at this point whether or not this will even trigger a vote of no confidence in Johnson - let alone a majority vote by Tory MPs to remove him.
First, we don’t know yet whether Johnson and Sunak are going to accept that they broke the rules and pay up - or whether they will contest the fines, which could ultimately lead to the matter being decided in court.
They won’t necessarily take the same view. Johnson is probably temperamentally more loath to concede defeat than Sunak, and Sunak could accept a fine knowing that no one believes that he is one of the main culprits in Partygate. (There have been suggestions that he was only at the surprise birthday party by accident, because he was there for another reason.) But Johnson is seen as much more culpable, partly because he attended other events being investigated by the police, but mostly because as PM he was ultimately responsible for what his staff did in No 10 and because he repeatedly misled or lied to MPs about what happened.
Second, we don’t know whether or not Sunak might take this as a trigger to resign - something he has reportedly been considering anyway, because of the pressure his family has been under over his wife’s tax affairs. This seems unlikely - yesterday his allies were briefing that he was going to stay - but it does not appear impossible. If Sunak were to resign, saying a cabinet minster shown to have broken the law could not remain in office, then it would be harder for Johnson to stay. But Johnson has never been bound by what he sees as other people’s rules.
Third, even if Johnson pays up, we don’t know yet whether 54 Tory MPs will demand a vote of no confidence. A few weeks ago it was taken for granted that a no confidence vote would happen in these circumstances. But Johnson has impressed MPs with his handling of the Ukraine war, and some government backbenchers accept the argument that it would be wrong to remove the prime minister in the middle of an international crisis. There are also local elections coming. Conservative MPs have in the past found it very easy to find reasons to postpone triggering a confidence vote.
And, fourth, even if there were a no confidence vote, it is by no means clear that 181 MPs (50% plus one) would vote to remove him. There is no obvious successor and Sunak, who until recently was seen as an obvious replacement, has seen his popularity with the public nose-dive in recent weeks.
Carrie Johnson reveals she is being fined over Partygate too
As ITV’s Robert Peston reports, Carrie Johnson, the PM’s wife, has also said she is being fined. Carrie Johnson’s spokesperson said:
In the interests of transparency, Mrs Johnson can confirm she has been notified that she will receive a Fixed Penalty Notice. She has not yet received any further details about the nature of the FPN.
Carrie Johnson reportedly organised the surprise birthday party for her husband that Johnson and Sunak both attended.
Starmer says Johnson and Sunak should now both resign after being fined over Partygate
Keir Starmer has said Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak should both resign. In a statement he said:
Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have broken the law and repeatedly lied to the British public. They must both resign.
The Conservatives are totally unfit to govern. Britain deserves better.
No 10 says Johnson and Sunak have both been told they are being fined by Met over Partygate
ITV’s Paul Brand has this quote from a No 10 spokesperson.
The prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer have today received notification that the Metropolitan police intend to issue them with fixed penalty notices. We have no further details, but we will update you again when we do.
Rishi Sunak also facing Partygate fine, BBC reports
Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak are both getting fixed-penalty notices (fines) over Partygate, the BBC’s Vicki Young is telling the World at One.
She says there are no more details about which event this covers.
But it has previously been reported that Johnson and Sunak both attended the event billed as a surprise birthday party for Johnson.
Boris Johnson to be fined over Partygate, BBC reports
This is from Vicki Young, the BBC’s deputy political editor
Labour's Bridget Phillipson heckled by teaching union delegates for not backing abolition of Ofsted
Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s shadow education secretary, was heckled by a group of National Education Union members at the teaching union’s annual conference, over the future of the Ofsted schools inspectorate.
While NEU delegates want Ofsted to be abolished in England, Phillipson said in her speech to members in Bournemouth that Labour would instead consult and reform the inspectorate.
Phillipson’s comments set off boisterous heckling, with the NEU president, Daniel Kebede, telling delegates that they should leave and have lunch rather than heckle the speaker.
About 100 people out of the roughly 1,000 in the audience then walked out of the hall. Once outside, many continued chanting in favour of Ofsted’s abolition.
After Phillipson had finished, Kebede, who was chairing the conference, told the delegates: “You are like children, settle down.”
The Downing Street leaving do for James Slack was on 16 April 2021, not 2020. I’ve corrected the post at 12.16pm where the mistake crept in.
SNP says scale of rule-breaking at No 10 over Partygate 'staggering'
And the SNP has said the extent of rule-breaking at No 10 during Partygate was “staggering”. This is from Kirsten Oswald, the SNP’s deputy leader at Westminster.
These latest PPartygate fines expose once again Boris Johnson’s pathetic defence that no parties were held or that the rules were followed as a lie.
The sheer scale of rule-breaking at the heart of Downing Street is staggering. People will be looking on in horror as those that set the rules blatantly broke them - making it clear that it’s one rule for the Tories and another for everyone else.
The public will rightly want answers and accountability, and it is vital that there is transparency in this ongoing investigation and that must involve full disclosure of precisely who, among ministers and senior civil servants, is being fined for breaking the law.
Boris Johnson should have resigned a long time ago over the rule-breaking parties, but his ego and lack of dignity has led him to desperately cling on.
The reality is that the longer he stays in office the more lasting the damage will be.
The SNP is saying all ministers and “senior civil servants” who are fined should be named. But No 10 has said the only official who will be identified, if he is fined, is Simon Case, the cabinet secretary.
Downing Street has also said that that it will tell the public if Boris Johnson or Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, receive a fine. It has not said the same about other ministers, although other ministers are not thought to have attended any of these events anyway.
Starmer says PM's Partygate defence 'blown out of water' as new fines show there was 'widespread criminality' at No 10
Keir Starmer, who is on a visit in Scotland, has said the news that more than 30 more fines are being issued over Partygate has blown the PM’s defence “out of the water”. He told Sky News:
This is further evidence that blows the prime minister’s defence out the water.
He told the country, he told parliament, that all the rules were complied with in Downing Street where he lives and where he works. And now it’s obvious that there was widespread criminality.
So I’m afraid it calls into even further question the honesty and integrity of the prime minister who stood up and said nothing was going on that shouldn’t have gone on, all the rules were complied with. It’s obvious that that was wrong, and it reflects very badly on the prime minister.
And Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, has issued a response to the latest news about Partygate fines on behalf of her party.
Crime is soaring, victims are being let down, and police officers are disappearing from our streets – now we see widespread criminality at the heart of Downing Street. This is just the latest example of a distracted out-of-touch government, guilty of breaking the law, never mind enforcing it.
Labour has set out a plan to crack down on crime and antisocial behaviour by making offenders pay back to communities and tackling antisocial behaviour with police hubs in every area. Meanwhile, the Conservatives are defending their own law-breaking and are refusing to distance themselves from one of their MP’s defence of a convicted sex offender.
Britain deserves better than this government.
Rayner’s main point is very similar to the Ed Davey’s. (See 12.27pm.)
Latest Partygate fines show 'shocking scale of criminality in Johnson's No 10', say Lib Dems
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, has renewed his call for Conservative MPs to remove Boris Johnson as their leader in the light of the latest revelations about the number of fines issued over Partygate. In a statement he said:
These fines expose the shocking scale of the criminality in Boris Johnson’s Number 10.
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 law-breaking on this scale. If Boris Johnson won’t resign, Conservative MPs must show him the door.
What we know so far about who is being fined by Met over Partygate
The police are investigating 12 events that took place in Downing Street or the Cabinet Office that are thought to have broken Covid lockdown rules. According to reports, people have already started receiving fines in relation to at least three of them. They are:
A leaving do on 18 June 2020 for Hannah Young, a Downing Street official moving to New York to take up a diplomatic post.
A leaving do on 17 December 2020 for Kate Josephs, the Cabinet Office official running the Covid-19 taskforce.
A leaving do on 16 April 2021 for James Slack, the PM’s former director of communications who left to become deputy editor of the Sun. This event was particularly controversial because it took place the night before Prince Philip’s funeral.
There has been speculation that the first fines are being directed at “low-hanging fruit” - the cases where guilt is most obvious, and those issued with fixed-penalty notices are least likely to contest them. These events might qualify because they were leaving events for people either no longer in government, or no longer in the country. Josephs, who left the Cabinet Office to become chief executive of Sheffield city council, issued an apology for her leaving party in January. Slack apologised at the same time for his leaving event.
Another former official, Helen MacNamara, who now works for the Premier League, issued an apology last week as she confirmed that she had been fined for attending the Hannah Young leaving do.
The Met is also investigating events attended by Boris Johnson, but it may be more reluctant to fine him because he has previously strongly insisted that he did not break lockdown rules. He has claimed that the gatherings he attended were legitimate work events, not parties.
Although the Met has said that more than 50 fines have been issued, that does not necessary mean more than 50 individuals have been fined, because some people may have received more than one fixed-penalty notice. And we do not yet know how many of those receiving fines have paid up, and how many are minded to contest them.
More than 30 more fines issued over Partygate in past fortnight, says Met
And here is the Metropolitan police statement in full.
The investigation into allegations of breaches of Covid-19 regulations in Whitehall and Downing Street continues to progress.
As of Tuesday, 12 April 2022 we have made over 50 referrals for fixed penalty notices (FPN) to the ACRO Criminal Records Office for breaches of Covid-19 regulations who following the referral issue the FPNs to the individual.
We are making every effort to progress this investigation at speed, this includes continuing to assess significant amounts of investigative material from which further referrals may be made to ACRO [Criminal Records Office].
It is exactly two weeks since the last update on Partygate from the Met, which was the one that disclosed for the first time that 20 fixed-penalty notices were being issued. At that point the FPNs (fines, essentially) had not yet been sent out.
Since then it has been reported that officials and former officials have received the FPNs. But it is not yet known how many of them have paid up. People who receive a FPN but think it is not justified can contest it, with these cases ultimately being resolved in court.
PA Media has just snapped this.
The Metropolitan Police said officers have now made more than 50 referrals for fixed penalty notices to the ACRO Criminal Records Office over breaches of Covid-19 regulations in Whitehall and Downing Street.
These are from the all-party parliamentary group on global LGBT+ rights on the resignation of its chairman, the Tory MP Crispin Blunt.
Responding to reports that a union has described the Border Force “catastrophically under-staffed”, Labour has claimed travellers are facing “travel chaos” because of the government’s ineptitude. Louise Haigh, the shadow transport secretary, said:
Brits are facing travel chaos, and the government is missing in action.
Instead of casting around for someone else to blame, Conservative ministers should look in the mirror.
They were warned about staffing shortages, and yet the Tories have comprehensively failed to take action to tackle the security backlog hampering recruitment.
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, has launched a call for evidence today as he prepares a new 10-year mental health plan. Javid says:
While we continue to expand and transform our mental health services under the NHS long-term plan to meet rising demand, we know we need to go further.
Too many people, particularly our children and young people, do not have the tools and support they need to look after their wellbeing or prevent mental health problems from escalating.
Frances O'Grady announces she will retire as TUC general secretary at end of year
Frances O’Grady has announced that she is standing down as general secretary of the TUC at the end of the year. By that point she will have been in the job for 10 years. A former deputy general secretary of the TUC, she has been the first woman to run the organisation, and her leadership has been widely praised, in the labour movement and beyond.
In a statement announcing her retirement she said:
Leading the TUC has been the greatest honour of my life. It has been a privilege to serve the trade union movement.
Unions are a force for good in British society. I am proud of what we achieved during the pandemic – from securing furlough, to keeping people safe at work, championing equality, and keeping vital services running.
And I’m proud of the work we do every day protecting workers’ jobs, pay, rights and working conditions.
The last decade has been turbulent – with three general elections, two anti-trade union bills, an EU referendum and a pandemic to contend with.
But on every occasion unions have risen to the challenge and fought for working people.
I want to place on record my huge thanks to all union reps and officers – you are the lifeblood of our movement.
I’m delighted to be stepping down at a time when the trade union movement is growing. There has never been a more important time to be a member of a trade union.
O’Grady’s successor will be elected at the TUC conference in September, and nominations for the job will close on 11 July.
Jump in UK wages fails to keep pace with cost of living
Britain’s cost of living crisis moved into its fourth consecutive month in February despite a jump in wages and a fall in unemployment to just 3.8%, its lowest level since 1974, my colleague Phillip Inman reports. The Office for National Statistics said average earnings growth of 5.4%, including bonuses, failed to keep pace with a 6.2% rise in the consumer prices index in February, while for those who missed out on a bonus the situation was even worse after average wages increased by only 4%.
Phillip’s full story is here.
Minister tells of 'unease' about Sunak's wife having to change her tax arrangements for sake of husband's career 'in 2022'
In an interview with the Guardian yesterday Keir Starmer accused Rishi Sunak of “rank hypocrisy” on the grounds he is putting up taxes for Britons while his wife has been using non-dom status to reduce her own tax bill, to the benefit of the Sunak household.
In his Sky News interview James Heappey, the armed forces minister, said that he did not accept Starmer’s argument. He explained:
I don’t think it is hypocritical because I don’t think that anybody is saying that Rishi hasn’t paid the tax that he is supposed to, so I just don’t get where Keir Starmer is coming from with that comment.
Addressing another argument made by Starmer in his Guardian interview, Heappey also said it was “ridiculous” to suggest Sunak was “out of touch” with the concerns of ordinary people because of his family wealth.
Heappey said he was not familiar with all the details of Sunak holding a US green card when became chancellor, but he did not accept it was a problem. he said:
Even if he was holding a green card whilst deciding on tax in this country, no one’s ever suggested that he’s done anything but pay all the tax that he is required to in the UK.
And he said he felt some “unease” about the fact that Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murty, had had to change her tax arrangements just for the sake of her husband’s career. He said:
[Murty] paid all the tax that she needed to on the income she earned in the UK.
She had non-domiciled status because she is a foreign national and she hasn’t made herself resident in the UK for the purposes of tax and her business.
She’s changed that decision out of loyalty to her husband’s political career and there’s a sort of unease, if you don’t mind me saying, that in 2022 that is still something that she felt compelled to do, to support her husband.
But she never did anything wrong by being non-dom. She is an Indian national and she pays her tax elsewhere. She’s changed that out of loyalty to Rishi, I think that’s very admirable.
Here is the full text of Crispin Blunt’s apology.
On reflection I have decided to retract my statement defending Imran Ahmad Khan. I am sorry that my defenc of him has been a cause of significant upset and concer not least to victims of sexual offences. It was not my intention to do this.
To be clear I do not condone any form of abuse and I strongly believe in the independence and integrity of the justice system.
It is a particularly difficult time for LGBT+ rights across the world and my statement risks distracting the APPG for Global LGBT+ Rights from its important purpose. I have today offered the officers my resignation so a new chair can be found to continue the work of the group with full force.
Blunt apologises for offence caused by his questioning of sexual assault verdict, and resigns as chair of LGBTQ+ group for MPs
Crispin Blunt, the Tory former justice minister, has now issued an apology for the offence caused by his statement yesterday casting doubt on the conviction of his Tory colleague Imran Ahmad Khan for sexual assault.
Blunt has also resigned as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for global LGBTQ+ rights.
James Heappey, the armed forces minister, was on the morning interview round on behalf of the government earlier and he said “all options” would be on the table if reports that Russia has used chemical weapons in Mariupol are verified. He told Sky News:
It’s important to recognise that there are all sorts of ways in which these things [chemical weapons] could be used, from the use of teargas, which is effectively a riot-control measure, all the way through to utterly devastating lethal chemical weapons systems, so I don’t think it’s helpful to be too binary about the situation because these are highly nuanced.
But he went on:
There are some things that are beyond the pale and the use of chemical weapons will get a response, and all options are on the table for what that response could be.
This is what Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, said about this on Twitter last night.
Labour defends its call for injunctions to stop climate crisis protesters disrupting motorists
As mentioned earlier, it is crime week in the Labour elections campaign grid and last night the party announced that - as it put it in its own press release - it was “calling for immediate nationwide injunctions to block Just Stop Oil protests as demonstrations continue to cause misery for motorists across Britain”.
Keir Starmer tweeted about this last night.
And Thangam Debbonaire, the shadow leader of the Commons, who has been giving interviews this morning, told the Today programme a few minutes ago why Labour was calling for these injunctions. She said:
Up and down the country, people are struggling to get fuel to put in their cars to get to work to put food on the table, pay rent or mortgage and it’s a very basic thing. People are struggling under the cost of living crisis already with stratospheric energy bills. Life is tough enough. And we want people who need their cars to get to work to be able to.
The proposal has infuriated people on Labour’s left. This is from James Schneider, who was one of Jeremy Corbyn’s most senior communications advisers.
And this is from Momentum, the group set up to promote the Corbyn agenda.
Asked about this criticism, Debbonaire said under Starmer Labour has defended the right to protest by voting against the many measures that would restrict it in the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill.
Tory MP Crispin Blunt withdraws statement questioning guilty verdict in Imran Ahmad Khan’s sexual assault trial
Good morning. Labour is campaigning on crime for the local elections this week and the Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, a former justice minister, played into their hands yesterday when he released a statement criticising the court proceedings that led to his Tory colleague Imran Ahmad Khan being found guilty of sexual assault. Blunt claimed that his friend was the victim of “a dreadful miscarriage of justice” but, in the statement issued on his website, he offered no evidence to justify this inflammatory allegation.
As Peter Walker and Jenn Selby report in their overnight story, Blunt’s comments were strongly criticised - not least by his own party.
Blunt has been under pressure to offer a retraction and, as my colleague Jessica Elgot reports, he has this morning removed the statement issued yesterday from his website and deleted his tweet about the case. Whether or not he will go further, and say that he was wrong to speak out in the first place, remains to be seen.
The row has coincided with the publication of a report from the Commons home affairs committee about rape cases saying “charging, prosecution and conviction levels remain shamefully low”. It says:
Public confidence in the ability of the criminal justice system to respond to reports of rape, to support victims and survivors, and, ultimately, to bring perpetrators to justice, is at what could be its lowest point. Police forces in England and Wales recently recorded the highest ever number of rapes within a 12-month period, yet only 1.3% of the recorded rape offences that have been assigned an outcome resulted in a charge or summons. According to Crown Prosecution Service figures, the volume of completed rape prosecutions dropped from 5,190 in 2016/17 to 1,557 in 2020/21.
Parliament is not sitting this week, Boris Johnson is taking a mini-holiday at Chequers, and there is not much in the diary. But Keir Starmer is campaigning in Scotland, and his shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, will be presenting on LBC, standing in for James O’Brien.
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