London: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and finance minister Rishi Sunak are to be fined for breaching COVID-19 lockdown laws in what has become known as the “Partygate” scandal, prompting calls on Tuesday for their resignation.
“The prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer have today received notification that the Metropolitan Police intend to issue them with fixed penalty notices,” a Downing Street spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
The announcement came after London’s Metropolitan Police said they had issued more than 50 fines over the parties, without disclosing the number or identities of those being fined.
The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, swiftly called for the two most senior members of the government to resign.
“Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have broken the law and repeatedly lied to the British public,” Starmer tweeted.
“They must both resign. The Conservatives are totally unfit to govern. Britain deserves better.”
The political storm following the revelations of a swathe of lockdown-busting parties in and around Downing Street now threatens to engulf Johnson once more.
He was left fighting for his political survival earlier this year after a number of lawmakers from his ruling Conservative Party withdrew their support for his leadership.
Bereaved families of victims of the COVID pandemic also called on Johnson to resign.
“It’s now indisputable that whilst bereaved families were unable to be at their loved ones’ sides in their last moments, or stood at their funerals alone, the people responsible for protecting us in Downing Street were partying and rule breaking en masse,” said Matt Fowler, co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice.
“It’s plain as day that there was a culture of boozing and rule breaching at the highest level of government, whilst the British public was making unimaginable sacrifices to protect their loved ones and communities.”
London police are investigating claims that Johnson and government officials organised and attended at least a dozen boozy events in 2020 and 2021 that violated Britain’s then-strict virus curbs.
“The investigation into allegations of breaches of COVID-19 regulations in Whitehall and Downing Street continues to progress,” the Met said in a statement on Tuesday.
“We are making every effort to progress this investigation at speed. This includes continuing to assess significant amounts of investigative material,” it added.
Johnson has already apologised for the parties, which included Christmas celebrations and a drink-fuelled gathering the evening before Prince Philip’s funeral.
The prime minister, who initially denied any rule-breaking events had occurred in the complex where he lives and works, has consistently rejected personal wrongdoing.
But his opponents accused him of misleading parliament by insisting the Downing Street events were work-related and within the rules. And the 57-year-old now faces renewed calls to explain why he attended social gatherings when his government was telling the public that they were illegal.
His office confirmed in February that Johnson had submitted his response to a police questionnaire on the matter but sources said he has not been interviewed in person by investigating officers.
Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine had eased the political pressure on Johnson, with the international crisis replacing “Partygate” in the daily headlines.
Johnson has sought to play a prominent role in the West’s response to the war, hosting near-daily calls with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and sending UK military aid to the eastern European country.
Later media reports include a photo of Johnson hosting an online Christmas quiz for his staff, seated alongside an official draped in tinsel.
Dec. 1 - Johnson denial Asked by the leader of the opposition Labour Party about reports of a December 2020 Christmas party, Johnson tells parliament: “All guidance was followed completely in No. 10.” Dec. 7 - Video of staff joking about party ITV News publishes a leaked video showing Johnson’s staff laughing and joking during a mock news conference over how to explain a gathering in Downing Street.
In the video, Allegra Stratton, then Johnson’s press secretary, says: “This fictional party was a business meeting, and it was not socially distanced.” Dec. 8 - Johnson apologises, aide resigns Johnson tells parliament: “I apologise unreservedly for the offence that (the Stratton clip) has caused up and down the country, and I apologise for the impression that it gives.
“I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no COVID rules were broken... if those rules were broken, there will be disciplinary action for all those involved.” Stratton resigns.
Dec. 9 - Details of inquiry published The government says Britain’s top civil servant, Simon Case, will lead an inquiry into three alleged gatherings. After additional media reports, it is broadened to cover further gatherings.
Dec. 17 - Lead investigator steps down Case steps down after reports that an event was held in his own office. The government says the investigation will be concluded by Gray.
Dec. 19 - Garden party photo published The Guardian newspaper publishes a photograph of Johnson and more than a dozen others drinking wine in the Downing Street garden that it said was taken during lockdown on May 15, 2020.
Dec. 20 - Johnson says garden party was work “Those were people at work talking about work,” Johnson said when asked about the Guardian picture.
Jan. 10 - Party invitation from Johnson’s aide published ITV publishes an email sent by Johnson’s Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds to over 100 Downing Street employees on May 20, 2020, inviting them “after what has been an incredibly busy period... (to) some socially distanced drinks in the No10 garden this evening ... and bring your own booze!” ITV said around 40 staff gathered, including Johnson and his partner Carrie, even though at the time social mixing between households was limited to two people outdoors.
Jan. 12 - PM says he attended lockdown gathering Johnson tells parliament he attended a gathering on May 20, 2020, in the Downing Street garden and apologises.
“When I went into that garden... to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a work event,” he said. His press secretary says he did not see Reynolds’ email.
The Times newspaper cites Conservative lawmakers saying Johnson later told them he did not believe he had personally done anything wrong and said “we’re taking hits for something we don’t deserve”.
Jan. 13 - Police decline to investigate gatherings British police say they will not investigate the Downing Street gatherings unless Gray’s inquiry finds evidence of potential criminal offences.
Jan. 14 - PM apologises to Buckingham Palace Johnson’s office apologises to Queen Elizabeth after it emerged staff partied late into the night in Downing Street on the eve of her husband Prince Philip’s funeral in April 2021, when mixing indoors was banned. Johnson was at his country residence that day, his spokesman says.
One of those parties was a leaving event for James Slack, a former director of communications, who apologises and says the gathering “should not have happened at the time that it did”.
Jan. 17 - Former aide says Johnson knew about May 2020 party Dominic Cummings, a former senior adviser to Johnson, says he is willing to “swear under oath” the prime minister knew about the May 20, 2020, party.
Cummings says he and at least one other adviser told Reynolds the drinks should not go ahead and that this warning was sent via email. According to Cummings, Reynolds said he would check with Johnson if he was happy for the drinks to go ahead, and he is sure Reynolds did so.
Jan. 24 - Report of Johnson 2020 birthday gathering ITV News says up to 30 people attended a June 19, 2020, birthday event for Johnson at 10 Downing Street at which he was presented with a cake while his wife led staff in a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’. Johnson’s office confirm staff gathered briefly after a meeting but dispute it was a party.
Jan. 25 - Police say they are now investigating London’s Metropolitan Police say have begun investigating “a number of events” that took place in Downing Street and other government departments after receiving information from Gray’s inquiry.
The Cabinet Office says Gray’s inquiry will continue.
March 29 - Police say they will issue first 20 fines Police said that an initial 20 fines would be issued over the gatherings and further fines were possible.
April 12 - Government confirms Johnson and Sunak to be fined Police say the total number of fines to be issued is now more than 50, and a spokesperson for Johnson says the prime minister and Sunak have been notified by police they will be fined.