U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he's paid a fine for breaching the coronavirus lockdown rules his own government passed, just hours after disclosing the police were penalizing him.
In a pooled broadcast interview on Tuesday, Johnson apologized for the "mistake" and said it didn't occur to him that the gathering in question - on his birthday in June 2020 - was a breach of the rules.
The remarks come after Johnson's office revealed that Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak had also been told by London's Metropolitan Police that he would be fined - a judgment by the force that Britain's two most senior politicians had broken the law.
Tuesday's development in the scandal dubbed "partygate" by the British media means Johnson is the first prime minister in modern times to have been found in breach of the law. It's likely to reinforce the public perception that while ordinary Britons faced severe restrictions on socializing, the premier and his aides, as well as his finance minister, partied in government buildings.
But even as separate polls on Tuesday showed a majority think Johnson should resign, there's little appetite in the ruling Conservative Party to unseat him in the midst of an international crisis, with the government dealing with the war in Ukraine. Johnson himself said he plans to get on with the job.
Johnson's fine related to a gathering "of two or more people indoors" in the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street on June 19, 2020, the prime minister's office said earlier in a statement. Sunak has acknowledged also being there.
Opposition Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer said the fines are a sign the two men had "repeatedly lied to the British public" and called on them to quit.
Johnson told the House of Commons in December that "all guidance was followed completely in Number 10." In the same month, Sunak told the chamber, "I did not attend any parties," though he later said he was at a Covid meeting when staff gathered to celebrate the premier's birthday.
"I walked into a meeting with a group of people as I do all the time," he told the BBC in February. "I am in the cabinet room for a Covid meeting much like the other 100, 200 - God knows how many other Covid meetings."
Two snap polls on Tuesday found the British public thinks Johnson should quit. Some 61% of 1,075 people surveyed by Savanta ComRes said he should resign over the fine, while 57% of 2,464 adults questioned by YouGov said he should go. A similar proportion in both polls said the chancellor should quit.