LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his finance minister Rishi Sunak will be fined for breaking Britain’s strict coronavirus lockdown rules, his office said on Tuesday, provoking anger and calls for them both to resign.
Police have been investigating 12 gatherings at Johnson’s Downing Street office and the Cabinet Office after a damning internal inquiry found his staff had enjoyed alcohol-fuelled parties that were not permitted.
Johnson said he had attended some of the events, held when social mixing was all but banned by laws his government brought in to curb the spread of COVID-19, but he has always denied knowingly committing any wrongdoing.
“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 spokesman for Johnson’s office said.
The fine, one of more than 50 police said they would issue as part of their inquiries, related to a gathering to celebrate the prime minister’s birthday in the Cabinet Room of Downing Street on June 19, 2020.
A spokesperson for Johnson’s wife, Carrie, said she would also be fined. Johnson swept to power in 2019 on a promise to complete Britain’s exit from the European Union, but his premiership has suffered a series of controversies and missteps in the last six months.
Revelations about boozy Downing Street parties provoked calls earlier this year from lawmakers in his own Conservative Party for his resignation, as public trust plummeted over the “partygate” affair.
However, the pressure abated with the outbreak of war in Ukraine in which he has sought to play a leading role in the West’s response. Some of the gatherings took place when people could not attend funerals or say farewell to loved ones dying in hospital because they were following rules set by Johnson’s government.
After the events were first reported in late 2021, Johnson said there were no parties and that all rules were followed. He later apologised to parliament for attending one event, which he said he thought was work-related. He also apologised to Queen Elizabeth for another at which staff partied on the eve of her husband’s funeral.
In June 2020, when Johnson’s birthday party took place, people from different households were not allowed to meet indoors and were asked to maintain a two-metre distance from each other while hospitality venues were shut.
A week earlier, Johnson told the nation: “I urge everyone to continue to show restraint and respect the rules which are designed to keep us all safe.”
The COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK group said it was “still unbelievably painful” that the prime minister had broken his own rules when they were unable to be with loved ones as they died.
“The fact that @BorisJohnson and @RishiSunak then lied about it, and would have continued to do so if the police hadn’t intervened, is truly shameless,” the group said on Twitter.
“There is simply no way either the prime minister or chancellor can continue.”
There were also widespread demands from opposition parties for Johnson and Sunak to quit, saying they had misled parliament about their actions.
However, the prime minister’s immediate future will be determined by Conservative lawmakers, who can trigger a leadership challenge if 54 of the party’s 360 parliamentary members demand a confidence vote.
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