PM under fresh pressure as Met Police issue first 20 fines over Westminster’s partygate scandal
The first 20 fines will be issued over alleged lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street and Whitehall in a move which will put Boris Johnson’s leadership under fresh pressure.
The Metropolitan Police said on Tuesday that investigators will begin to refer the notices to the ACRO Criminal Records Office, which would be responsible for issuing the penalties.
It is expected that further fines could be issued as officers continue to go through the evidence gathered.
The force is investigating at least 12 events, including six the Prime Minister is thought to have attended.
The identities of those issued with fines will not be disclosed by Scotland Yard, although Downing Street has said it will confirm if Mr Johnson is handed a fixed penalty notice (FPN).
The initial wave of fines is not expected to include the Prime Minister, who was one of dozens of people issued with a police questionnaire to account for his actions, as he is contesting the allegations and took advice from his personal lawyer on how to respond.
The Metropolitan Police said: “The investigation into allegations of breaches of Covid-19 regulations in Whitehall and Downing Street has now progressed to the point where the first referrals for fixed penalty notices (FPN) will be made to ACRO Criminal Records Office.
“We will today initially begin to refer 20 fixed penalty notices to be issued for breaches of Covid-19 regulations. The ACRO Criminal Records Office will then be responsible for issuing the FPNs to the individual following the referrals from the MPS.
“We are making every effort to progress this investigation at speed and have completed a number of assessments.
“However, due to the significant amount of investigative material that remains to be assessed, further referrals may be made to ACRO if the evidential threshold is made.”
The Met would not confirm how many individuals will receive fines – it is possible some people will receive multiple penalties if they attended more than one event – or their identities.
The force will also not disclose which parties the fines relate to.
The Met said the move was in line with College of Policing guidance on not revealing the identities of people dealt with out-of-court.
The Cabinet Office said it would not be appropriate to comment on the first 20 partygate fines while the police investigation is ongoing.
Mr Johnson came under intense pressure to quit as a result of the partygate scandal, but in recent weeks the war in Ukraine has seen Tory MPs rally round the leader at a time of international crisis.
But the Met’s intervention, confirming it believes laws were broken at the heart of Government, could reignite the debate about his leadership.
Government minister Will Quince said the gatherings which took place during coronavirus restrictions “shouldn’t have happened”, but it would be “inappropriate” to comment further.
“I completely understand the considerable upset caused, the events that took place shouldn’t have happened,” he told Sky News.
“But I hope you’ll understand that both as an education minister but more importantly, as there’s an ongoing live Metropolitan Police investigation, it’s just not appropriate that I comment.”
He said questions over whether the Prime Minister should resign if fined were “hypothetical”, but also said Mr Johnson had committed to publish a full report by senior official Sue Gray into the scandal “as soon as the Metropolitan Police have concluded their investigation”.
Mr Quince added: “Looking at the moment over in Ukraine, and even worse over in Russia, I think it’s a brilliant thing that we have a free press in this country that is able to ask these kinds of questions.”
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said the war in Ukraine should not be used as an excuse to save Mr Johnson.
“After over two months of police time, 12 parties investigated and over a hundred people questioned under caution, Boris Johnson’s Downing Street has been found guilty of breaking the law,” she said.
“The culture is set from the very top. The buck stops with the Prime Minister, who spent months lying to the British public, which is why he has got to go.”
Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ed Davey said: “If Boris Johnson thinks he can get away with partygate by paying expensive lawyers and throwing junior staff to the wolves, he is wrong.
“We all know who is responsible. The Prime Minister must resign, or Conservative MPs must sack him.”
More than 100 police questionnaires had been sent out to people at the gatherings.
These events included a “bring your own booze” gathering, details of which were emailed to staff at No 10 by the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds in May 2020, and a surprise get-together for Mr Johnson’s birthday in June 2020.
Mr Johnson previously admitted he was at the “socially-distanced drinks” organised by Mr Reynolds for 25 minutes – claiming he believed it was a work event – while Downing Street said staff “gathered briefly” in the Cabinet Room to mark the Prime Minister’s 56th birthday.
The police are also investigating a party in Mr Johnson’s Downing Street flat on November 13 2020 – reportedly hosted by his wife Carrie on the night of the Prime Minister’s controversial aide Dominic Cummings’ acrimonious exit from No 10.
In January, civil servant Ms Gray published a report into the allegations of the parties, which said there were “failures of leadership and judgment” in parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office while England was under coronavirus restrictions in 2020 and 2021.
The initial publication contained limited detail due to the police investigation but a fuller report is expected once the Met’s inquiry concludes.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said on Tuesday: “As set out previously by the PM, Sue Gray’s findings will be published when the Met Police’s investigation has concluded.”
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