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UK PM, Rishi Sunak to be fined over 'partygate' scandal

By Aditi Khanna
Last updated on: April 12, 2022 20:39 IST
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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Chancellor Rishi Sunak will be fined by police over the “partygate” scandal for breaching COVID-19 pandemic rules following allegations of lockdown parties at government offices.

IMAGE: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak walk out of Downing Street, in London, Britain. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Downing Street on Tuesday confirmed that the two senior-most UK government officials had received notification from the Metropolitan Police that they would be given “fixed penalty notices” or a legally binding sanction.

"The Prime Minister and Chancellor have today received notification that the Metropolitan Police intend to issue them with fixed penalty notices," a Downing Street spokesperson said.
Boris Johnson's wife, Carrie Johnson, is also among those notified of such a notice.

"In the interests of transparency, Mrs Johnson can confirm she has been notified that she will receive a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN). She has not yet received any further details about the nature of the FPN," her spokesperson said.

 

The Opposition Labour Party immediately demanded the resignation of both Johnson and Sunak over the breach of legal rules imposed by the government during the pandemic.

"Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have broken the law and repeatedly lied to the British public. They must both resign. The Conservatives are totally unfit to govern. Britain deserves better," said Labour Leader Keir Starmer.

Another Opposition leader, Liberal Democrat's Sir Ed Davey, called for Parliament, currently on its Easter recess, to be recalled to hold a no confidence vote in the Prime Minister.

"This is a government in crisis neglecting a country in crisis," he said.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also demanded that both Johnson and Sunak should quit.

Fixed penalty notices are a sanction for breaking the law and mean a fine needs to be paid within 28 days unless contested. If someone chooses to contest the fine, the police will then review the case and decide whether to withdraw the fine or take the matter to court.

While the individuals issued with the fines have not been named by the police, Downing Street had said that the public would be made aware if the Prime Minister or ministers received a fixed penalty notice. A typical fine for breach of COVID rules varies between GBP 50 up to GBP 300, depending on the severity of the breach.

The revelation came as Scotland Yard announced that over 50 fines will be issued to people who organised or attended parties at Downing Street and within UK government offices in Whitehall in London in breach of COVID legislation in place over 2020-2021. The rules at the time limited the number of people from different households mingling together at gatherings or parties to contain the spread of coronavirus.

As part of their inquiries, the police sent out over 100 questionnaires seeking information about participation in the events. Johnson and his Downing Street neighbour, Indian-origin finance minister Sunak, were among the 100 people who were sent formal legal questionnaires relating to the Metropolitan Police inquiry launched into the partygate scandal in January.

The police have been investigating 12 events that may have breached coronavirus lockdown rules, including several believed to have been attended by Boris Johnson. One was a surprise birthday gathering for him in the Cabinet room at Downing Street in June 2020.

The Metropolitan Police had launched Operation Hillman following an internal inquiry into what became widely known as the “partygate” scandal.

Last month, the police force had confirmed 20 fines, a number which now goes up to at least 30 more fines or "referrals" for so-called fixed penalty notices to the force's official criminal records unit.

“As of Tuesday, 12 April 2022 we have made over 50 referrals for fixed penalty notices to the ACRO Criminal Records Office for breaches of COVID-19 regulations who following the referral issue the FPNs to the individual,” the Met Police said in a statement.

“We are making every effort to progress this investigation at speed, this includes continuing to assess significant amounts of investigative material from which further referrals may be made to ACRO Criminal Records Office,” the statement said.

Johnson initially insisted that "guidelines were followed at all times" but revelations around the gatherings led to him to set up an internal inquiry. He was then forced to issue an apology over the scandal in Parliament and promised a further statement in the House of Commons at the conclusion of the investigation.

Scotland Yard launched its investigation following the conclusion of that internal government inquiry led by senior civil servant Sue Gray, whose report found "failures of leadership and judgement" in government.

Several Conservative Party MPs had called for Johnson to resign over the partygate scandal earlier this year but much of that stance has softened since the Russia-Ukraine conflict began over a month ago.

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Aditi Khanna
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