No 10 refuses to say lockdown laws were broken despite partygate fines

An initial 20 fixed penalty notices have been issued as a result of the Metropolitan Police investigation into Downing Street and Whitehall parties.

30 March 2022

Boris Johnson insisted he is getting on with the job of running the country as Downing Street refused to accept the law was broken in the partygate scandal.

In his first public comments since the Metropolitan Police issued fines over lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street and Whitehall, Mr Johnson said the “investigators must get on with their job” but “we are going to get on with our job”.

However, Downing Street clashed with Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab over the Met’s conclusion that lockdown laws had been broken.

An initial round of 20 fixed penalty notices (FPNs) have been issued as part of Scotland Yard’s investigation into a series of gatherings in 2020 and 2021.

Mr Raab, the Justice Secretary and a lawyer, said it was “clear there were breaches of the law”.

“Clearly there were breaches of the regulations,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.

“That is the only thing that can warrant the 20 fixed penalty notices. That must follow.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said No 10 was maintaining its position of refusing to accept the law was broken.

“The Met have come to a conclusion and have started a process which relates to 20 fines and we respect that,” the spokesman said.

“We will not be commenting further on the detail of what happened until the investigation is concluded.

“It simply would not be right for me to give the Prime Minister’s view in the midst of an ongoing Met police investigation.”

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir Starmer suggested Mr Johnson should resign for misleading the House by denying the allegations of wrongdoing at the parties during England’s coronavirus lockdowns.

Labour leader Sir Keir said: “He told the House no rules were broken in Downing Street during lockdown. The police have now concluded there was widespread criminality.

“The Ministerial Code says that ministers who knowingly mislead the House should resign. Why is he still here?”

The Prime Minister said: “Of course the Met, the investigators, must get on with their job, but in the meantime … we are going to get on with our job.

“That means tackling the cost of living, addressing the UK’s energy supply and improving education.

“That’s what we’re focusing on and I think that’s what the people in this country want us to focus on.”

The FPNs being issued by the Met relate to investigations into a series of around a dozen events in Downing Street and Whitehall while England was subject to coronavirus lockdown restrictions – including one in the Prime Minister’s flat.

Although Mr Johnson is not expected to be among the first group to be hit with fines, the Met have indicated they expect to issue more fixed penalty notices as their investigations continue.

Sir Keir said there are “only two possible explanations” for Mr Johnson’s position: “Either he’s trashing the Ministerial Code or he’s claiming he was repeatedly lied to by his own advisers, that he didn’t know what was going on in his own house and his own office.

“Come off it.

“He really does think it’s one rule for him and another rule for everyone else, that he can pass off criminality in his office and ask others to follow the law.”

Earlier, Mr Raab insisted Mr Johnson had not been aware of the “infractions” when he repeatedly told MPs there had not been any breach of the law.

The Prime Minister had been speaking to the best of his knowledge at the time, Mr Raab said, and had not deliberately lied – even though he had been at some of the events which were under investigation.

“I think it is rather different to say that he lied, which suggests that he was deliberately misleading. The PM has not to date been issued with a fixed penalty notice,” Mr Raab told BBC Breakfast.

“Clearly we had the investigations because of the claims, the assertions that were made, which it was right to follow up, and it is clear there were breaches of the law.

“But to jump from that to say the Prime Minister deliberately misled Parliament rather than answering to the best of his ability is just not right.”

Mr Johnson will face further questions from senior MPs at the Liaison Committee on Wednesday afternoon.

He came under intense pressure to quit when the initial partygate disclosures broke last year, but in recent weeks the war in Ukraine has seen Tory MPs rally round their leader.

While Mr Johnson may currently be safe from being ousted by Tory critics, he still faces an uncertain future if the police do conclude that he personally broke the law.

A cessation of hostilities in Ukraine, however unlikely that may appear, could remove one of the reasons for Conservatives to offer support to Mr Johnson, while a poor showing in May’s local elections would heap further pressure on him.

The cost-of-living crisis, set to be exacerbated by rising energy bills and the national insurance hike in April, will also add to the Prime Minister’s difficulties.

The Liaison Committee is expected to focus on Ukraine and the cost-of-living crunch during its session with Mr Johnson.

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