No 10 braced for first fines to be issued in partygate scandal

Government minister Will Quince admitted gatherings held in Downing Street and Whitehall during coronavirus restrictions “shouldn’t have happened”.

29 March 2022

Downing Street is braced for the first wave of police fines over lockdown-busting parties at No 10 and Whitehall.

The Metropolitan Police is expected to issue “imminently” the first fixed-penalty notices for breaking coronavirus laws as a result of its investigation into the partygate scandal.

The force is investigating 12 events, including as many as six Prime Minister Boris Johnson is said to have attended.

The Guardian, which broke the news, suggested around 20 fines would be issued relating to the most straightforward cases.

That would appear to exclude Boris Johnson, who was one of dozens of people issued with a police questionnaire to account for his actions and took legal advice from his personal lawyer on how to respond.

Mr Johnson came under intense pressure to quit as a result of the partygate scandal, but in recent weeks the war in Ukraine has seen MPs rally round the leader at a time of international crisis.

But the Met’s intervention, confirming that laws were broken at the heart of government, could reignite the debate about his leadership.

Government minister Will Quince said the gatherings which took place during coronavirus restrictions “shouldn’t have happened” but it would be “inappropriate” to comment further.

“I completely understand the considerable upset caused, the events that took place shouldn’t have happened,” he told Sky News.

“But I hope you’ll understand that both as an education minister but more importantly, as there’s an ongoing live Metropolitan Police investigation, it’s just not appropriate that I comment.”

He said questions over whether the Prime Minister should resign if fined were “hypothetical” but also said Mr Johnson had committed to publish a full report by senior official Sue Gray into the scandal “as soon as the Metropolitan Police have concluded their investigation”.

Mr Quince added: “Looking at the moment over in Ukraine, and even worse over in Russia, I think it’s a brilliant thing that we have a free press in this country that is able to ask these kinds of questions.”

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said the war in Ukraine should not be used as an excuse to save Mr Johnson.

“That doesn’t negate the Prime Minister from lying to the British public and not following his own rules,” she told Sky.

“If he’s found to have broken them then I don’t believe his position is tenable.

“I think it’s disgraceful and I don’t see how he can continue in his role when he’s been so… when he’s not told the truth to the British public.”

 Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a press conference at Downing Street in London (Alberto Pezzali/PA)

The Metropolitan Police said more than 100 questionnaires had been sent out to people at the gatherings.

They included a “bring your own booze” event, details of which were emailed to staff at No 10 by the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds in May 2020, and a surprise get-together for Mr Johnson’s birthday in June 2020.

Mr Johnson previously admitted he was at the “socially-distanced drinks” organised by Mr Reynolds for 25 minutes – claiming he believed it was a work event – while Downing Street said staff “gathered briefly” in the Cabinet Room to mark the Prime Minister’s 56th birthday.

The Met said it would not give a “running commentary” on the investigation.

On March 21 the force said  detectives had started to interview people as witnesses, but “as yet, we have not made any referrals to the ACRO Criminal Records Office for the issuing of fixed penalty notices”.

Downing Street partygate
In January, civil servant Sue Gray published a report into the allegations of the parties, which said there were ‘failures of leadership and judgment’ in parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

In January, civil servant Ms Gray published a report into the allegations of the parties, which said there were “failures of leadership and judgment” in parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office while England was under coronavirus restrictions in 2020 and 2021.

The initial publication contained limited detail due to the police investigation.

A fuller report is expected once the Met’s investigation concludes.

Following the publication of Ms Gray’s report, Mr Johnson apologised to MPs, adding: “I get it and I will fix it.”

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