PM and Chancellor apologise over birthday party Covid rules breach

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have paid fines for attending the Cabinet Room bash.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (Dan Kitwood/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (Dan Kitwood/PA)

The Prime Minister and Chancellor have both paid fines and apologised for attending Boris Johnson’s birthday bash in Downing Street during Covid restrictions.

Mr Johnson said it “did not occur” to him that the gathering in the Cabinet Room on June 19 2020 to mark his 56th birthday was a violation of coronavirus rules, but that he “now humbly accepts” he did breach Covid-19 laws.

Mr Sunak, meanwhile, said: “I deeply regret the frustration and anger caused and I am sorry.”

Carrie Johnson, the Prime Minister’s wife, was also issued with a fine which has been paid.

Scotland Yard, according to a statement published by No 10, said Mr Johnson had been fined because “on June 19 2020 at the Cabinet Room… between 1400 and 1500” he had been part of “a gathering of two or more people indoors”, which was banned at the time.

The Prime Minister, speaking to broadcasters at Chequers, said he “fully respects” the outcome of the police investigation and that he accepted “in all sincerity that people had the right to expect better” from him.

Mr Sunak, whose fine relates to the same event, said: “I understand that for figures in public office, the rules must be applied stringently in order to maintain public confidence. I respect the decision that has been made and have paid the fine.”

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.”

A police officer enters 10 Downing Street in Westminster (Yui Mok/PA)

He added: “I now humbly accept that I was.

“But I think the best thing I can do now is, having settled the fine, is focus on the job in hand. That’s what I’m going to do.”

Asked if he thought more fines were coming his way, he said the media would be among the first to know.

Scotland Yard on Tuesday announced a further tranche of fixed penalty notices (FPNs) in relation to Operation Hillman, which is probing possible Covid breaches in Downing Street and Whitehall, with more than 50 fines referred to the Acro Criminal Records Office since the inquiry started.

No 10 followed on by confirming that both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor were among those to be fined.

A spokeswoman for Mrs Johnson also announced that she too had been fined.

The FPNs received by Mr and Mrs Johnson and Mr Sunak were in relation to the June 2020 birthday gathering at which, according to Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns, Mr Johnson was “ambushed with a cake”.

Reports have suggested that up to 30 people attended the do and sang Happy Birthday in the Cabinet Room.

In a statement on Tuesday evening, Mr Sunak confirmed he had paid his fine.

“I offer an unreserved apology,” he said.

“I understand that for figures in public office, the rules must be applied stringently in order to maintain public confidence. I respect the decision that has been made and have paid the fine.

“I know people sacrificed a great deal during Covid, and they will find this situation upsetting. I deeply regret the frustration and anger caused and I am sorry.”

A spokesperson for Mrs Johnson said the former Tory director of communications had also paid her fine, which is understood to have been £50 if settled within 14 days.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson with his wife Carrie (Jacob King/PA)

“Whilst she believed that she was acting in accordance with the rules at the time, Mrs Johnson accepts the Metropolitan Police’s findings and apologises unreservedly,” her spokeswoman said.

The Prime Minister has faced renewed calls to resign following the No 10 announcement that he had been slapped with a punishment for breaching coronavirus laws.

However he dodged questions over whether he would resign, instead insisting he wanted to get on with the job, which was echoed by Mr Sunak.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, a former director of public prosecutions, said the police’s decision marked the “first time in the history of our country that a prime minister has been found to be in breach of the law”.

Speaking in Preston, he accused Mr Johnson of “repeatedly” lying about what happened behind the famous black door of No 10.

Sir Keir also argued that the Tory leader and Mr Sunak had “dishonoured” the sacrifices made by Britons who did follow the rules during the pandemic.

“The British public made the most unimaginable, heart-wrenching sacrifices, and many were overcome by guilt,” he said.

“But the guilty men are the Prime Minister and the Chancellor.

“Britain deserves better, they have to go.”

Labour has joined the chorus of demands for the Commons to be recalled from its two-week Easter break and allow Mr Johnson to “tender his resignation” in person to MPs.

The push for a recall has also been made by the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru, while Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been among those of prominence to demand the Prime Minister quits.

The Cabinet ministerial defence of Mr Johnson started with Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, who argued that the Tory leader had “been clear about what happened” during the Cabinet Room gathering in 2020 and had “offered a full apology”.

“It was a brief gathering in the Cabinet Room, less than 10 minutes during a busy working day,” said Ms Dorries.

Other Cabinet ministers including Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Cop26 president Alok Sharma, Health Secretary Sajid Javid, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove, and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and No 10 Chief of Staff Steve Barclay have also shown their support.

It comes as a snap YouGov poll of 2,460 adults taken on Tuesday found that 57% of people think the Prime Minister should go, with the same proportion thinking the same about the Chancellor.

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