Boris Johnson broke law ‘in error’ and is ‘completely mortified’ by fine, minister claims

Grant Shapps defends boss he describes as ‘honourable man’, as possibility of further fines looms

Adam Forrest
Wednesday 13 April 2022 09:31
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Boris Johnson is ‘incredibly embarrassed’ by fine, says minister

Boris Johnson is “incredibly embarrassed” to have been fined by the police but did not mean to break his own Covid laws, a cabinet minister has claimed.

Grant Shapps defended the prime minister, saying he had been taken “by surprise” by the June 2020 birthday party for which he received his fixed penalty notice (FPN).

“He is completely mortified by this happening … he’s incredibly embarrassed – he knows it was stupid, indefensible,” the transport secretary told Sky News.

Mr Shapps added: “The question is, did he set out to do this? Was it something that was done with malice, with intent? The answer of course is no – it’s something that happened in error.”

He said the PM attended a “surprise event for nine minutes”, and claimed: “He didn’t knowingly break the law. He didn’t do it deliberately. He thought the people wishing him happy birthday was not breaking the law.”

However, Mr Johnson may yet face further sanctions relating to other Downing Street gatherings. As well as the birthday party, he attended a “bring your own booze” gathering in the garden of No 10 on 20 May 2020 and took part in a Christmas Zoom quiz on 15 December 2020, when he was photographed alongside two staff members.

It is also thought he may have been present at an “Abba party” held by wife Carrie in their flat above 11 Downing Street to celebrate the departure of former aide Dominic Cummings on 13 November 2020.

On Wednesday Mr Shapps further insisted that the prime minister should not have to resign for breaking the law he imposed on the rest of the country. “Anybody who broke the [Covid] rules wouldn’t be in a job, would they?”

Asked if he thought Mr Johnson was an honourable man, Mr Shapps said: “I do. I judge people in the round. I’m not saying the prime minister isn’t a flawed man, we’re all flawed … He’s human, and humans err.”

Mr Johnson looked set to avoid an initial fallout from becoming the first prime minister to be hit with criminal sanctions while in office.

The PM, his wife and the chancellor Rishi Sunak all apologised on Tuesday and confirmed they had paid fines imposed by the Metropolitan Police over a party held on 19 June 2020 to mark Mr Johnson’s 56th birthday.

Cabinet ministers including Liz Truss, Dominic Raab, Michael Gove and Sajid Javid, tweeted in support of Mr Johnson, praising his leadership and pointing to the ongoing challenge of the Ukraine war.

Culture secretary Nadine Dorries claimed the Tory leader had “been clear about what happened on” in June 2020 and had “offered a full apology”, despite the shifting nature of Mr Johnson’s denials and defences.

Tory MP Michael Fabricant defended the PM for breaking his own lockdown laws by suggesting “many teachers and nurses” also broke the rules.

Veteran Tory MP Sir Roger Gale, a vocal critic of Mr Johnson, said now was not the time to unseat him during the Ukraine war. He said “history would not forgive us” if the PM was replaced during an international crisis.

Boris Johnson claims ‘it did not occur’ to him that he was breaking rules

But Sir Roger said that while he thought Johnson had “effectively misled the House of Commons” and “is clearly going to have to be held to account”.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross echoed his colleagues’ sentiments, saying it “wouldn’t be right” to remove the PM “at this time” during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, who recently withdrew his letter of no-confidence on Mr Johnson, said it was not the time for a leadership challenge. But he added: “This is not the end of this matter.”

But Tory peer Baroness Ruth Davidson spoke out against Mr Johnson, saying he “broke the rules he imposed on the country and lost the moral authority to lead. He should go”.

Ministers and allies of Mr Johnson are reportedly worried about the possibility the prime minister could still receive more fines for attending other gatherings.

Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak do not seem to understand how “deeply offensive” their lockdown breaches are, as she repeated calls for them to step down.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Ms Reeves said: “Fresh leadership would mean that we will have a government that could concentrate on the issues that we need to focus on as a country.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey renewed his calls for the PM and chancellor to resign as the “trust in them that is so important in crises has gone”.

Lord Frost, the former Brexit minister, told LBC: “I don’t think the one fixed penalty notice is itself grounds for resignation” – backing Mr Johnson to lead the Tory party into the next election.

But the Tory peer said the PM had to come to Commons to correct his comments. “The prime minister is on record saying to parliament that all the rules were observed and there were no parties – that’s obviously not the case.”

A YouGov poll found that 57 per cent of voters thought Mr Johnson should resign, while 75 per cent said he had knowingly lied.

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