UK police to issue first 20 fines over ‘partygate’ scandal

The first 20 fines are to be issued to people who attended government parties in Downing Street and Whitehall that breached coronavirus rules, the Metropolitan Police said on Tuesday.

London’s police force has been investigating at least 12 government gatherings in 2020 and 2021 held during Covid-19 restrictions, including at 10 Downing Street and 70 Whitehall, where the Cabinet Office is based.

Downing Street said on Tuesday that Boris Johnson had not been informed he was among the first people to be issued with fines over the so-called partygate scandal.

Johnson’s spokesperson confirmed Number 10 would announce any fixed penalty notice handed out to the prime minister but declined to comment on whether he would resign in these circumstances, saying it was a hypothetical question.

The spokesperson said Downing Street would not name any other government figures who received fines.

As part of its investigation into the parties, the Met sent questionnaires to Johnson, chancellor Rishi Sunak, and cabinet secretary Simon Case.

Asked whether the prime minister would apologise given the Met had concluded the law had been broken, his spokesman said: “The prime minister has apologised . . . He has said sorry for the things that we did not get right. He has said sorry for the ways things have been handled and that mistakes have been made.”

Case was leading a government investigation commissioned by Johnson into the Whitehall parties held during coronavirus restrictions but was forced to recuse himself after media reports about a gathering in his private office.

The investigation has since been led by Sue Gray, a senior civil servant, who wants to issue her full report after the police probe has been completed.

The Met said in a statement it would “initially begin to refer 20 fixed penalty notices to be issued for breaches of Covid-19 regulations”, adding it would not name those who had been fined.

Fines will be sent out in the coming days by the ACRO Criminal Records Office, said people briefed on the situation.

The partygate scandal plunged Johnson’s premiership into crisis towards the end of 2021.

The prime minister told the BBC last year that “all the [Covid] guidelines were observed”, but some Conservative MPs criticised Johnson and called for a vote of no confidence in him.

However, the pressure on Johnson eased after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last month, with some Tory MPs abandoning their demands for a confidence vote.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner on Tuesday called on Johnson to take responsibility for the fines because “the culture is set from the very top”, as she repeated the opposition party’s call for him to resign.

“It is disgraceful that while the rest of the country followed their [Covid] rules, Boris Johnson’s government acted like they didn’t apply to them,” she said.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said Johnson was responsible for the fines. “If Boris Johnson thinks he can get away with partygate . . . he is wrong,” he added. “We all know who is responsible.”

Whitehall officials said the Met investigation was expected to result in further rounds of fines, which could cover more contentious allegations about people accused of breaching coronavirus rules. “The first round covers the most blatant cases,” said one official.

The Met said further fines may be issued “if the evidential threshold is made” but highlighted the “significant amount of investigative material”, including more than 300 images.

“We are making every effort to progress this investigation at speed and have completed a number of assessments,” it added.

Downing Street said staff working in Number 10 will not be obliged to tell their managers if they receive a fine.

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