Boris Johnson becomes first sitting PM sanctioned for law breaking with Covid fine

Boris Johnson became the first sitting Prime Minister to be sanctioned for breaking the law yesterday, as he was fined for attending a gathering to mark his birthday during lockdown.

File photo of 10 Downing Street
File photo of 10 Downing Street

The Prime Minister and his Chancellor Rishi Sunak were facing renewed calls to resign last night, after it emerged they - as well as the Prime Minister’s wife Carrie - are among the recipients of the 50-plus fines that have now been handed out over partygate.

The Prime Minister vowed to stay on in Number 10 with a “an even greater sense of obligation” to serve the public, after having been handed the penalty for attending a gathering in the Cabinet Room on 19 June 2020 to mark his 56th birthday,

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However, snap polling suggested that a majority of the British public wanted him to resign his position.

Mr Johnson apologised last night and confirmed that he had paid the fine, but said that “at that time it did not occur to me that this might have been a breach of the rules.”

He said he “fully respects” the outcome of the Metropolitan Police investigation and that he accepts “in all sincerity that people had the right to expect better”.

He added: “Now I feel an even greater sense of obligation to deliver on the priorities of the British people.”

Outlining the busy nature of the day the fine related to, Mr Johnson said he chaired eight meetings in No 10 and followed them up with a four-hour round trip to a school in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire.

He said: “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.

“And 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.”

Asked directly if he would resign, Mr Johnson told broadcasters: “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 to make sure that we get on with delivering for the people in this country. That is my priority.”

There was no immediate comment from Richmond MP Mr Sunak, who many in Westminster had thought likely to not be fined.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer labelled both Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak “guilty men” who have “dishonoured” their offices.

“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.”

A large number of Conservative MPs kept quiet on the situation last night, with few immediately publicly confirming any support for the Prime Minister or the Chancellor.

However, there were a number who spoke out following the Prime Minister’s statement, including Middlesbrough MP and Treasury Minister Simon Clarke, who gave his “full support” to the pair.

He tweeted: “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,” and added: “It’s time to get on with the job of governing at a crucial time at home and abroad.”

Despite this, pollsters YouGov found that more than half of the public wanted the Prime Minister to go.

A snap survey suggested 57 per cent of people wanted Mr Johnson to offer his resignation, with the same number wanting Mr Sunak out of Number 11.

Three in ten (30 per cent) wanted the Prime Minster to stay in post, compared to 29 per cent who said the same about the Chancellor.

Meanwhile, 75 per cent of the almost 2,500 respondents said they thought Mr Johnson knowingly lied to Parliament about whether he broke lockdown rules, with just 12 per cent saying he did not.