UK’s Prime Minister Refuses to Resign over Covid Scandal

Boris Johnson says he has paid a police fine for attending a lockdown-breaching party and offers a ‘full apology’.

Johnson is the first British leader to be sanctioned for breaking the law while in office [File: Tom Nicholson/Reuters]

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he paid a fine from police for attending a lockdown-breaching birthday party in his official residence, making him the first British leader to be sanctioned for breaking the law while in office.

“Let me say immediately that I’ve paid the fine and I once again offer a full apology,” Johnson said in a TV address on Tuesday.

The Chancellor of Exchequer Rishi Sunak will also be fined.

London’s Metropolitan Police force said earlier on Tuesday that it was issuing 30 more fixed penalty notices in relation to the “Partygate” scandal, which has seen dozens of politicians and officials investigated over allegations that the government flouted its own coronavirus pandemic restrictions and caused a wave of public anger.

Pedestrians in Covent Garden in London, Britain
Thousands of people were fined by police for rule-breaking social gatherings [File: Facundo Arrizanalaga/EPA]

The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing, but he is alleged to have been at several of the dozen events in his 10 Downing Street office and other government buildings that are being investigated by the police.

Johnson’s government has been shaken by public anger over revelations that his staff held “bring your own booze” office parties, birthday celebrations and “wine time Fridays” in 2020 and 2021 while millions in the United Kingdom were barred from meeting with friends and family because of his government’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Thousands of people were fined between 60 pounds ($78) and 10,000 pounds ($13,040) by police for rule-breaking social gatherings.

In total, police said they were issuing at least 50 fines for the breaches, but did not identify who the recipients are. Police said they have sent questionnaires to more than 100 people, including the prime minister, and interviewed witnesses as part of the investigation.

“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,” police said in a statement.

In January, civil servant Sue Gray published a report into some of the gatherings, the ones not under criminal investigation. She said “failures of leadership and judgment” in Johnson’s government allowed events to occur that should not have happened.

Opposition calls for resignations

Opposition figures in Parliament have demanded that both Johnson and other members of his government resign over the scandal.

“Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have broken the law and repeatedly lied to the British public. They must both resign,” said Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour Party.

The issue had already threatened Johnson’s position earlier this year when a number of lawmakers in his own Conservative Party called for him to quit as public trust plummeted and support for the government shrank.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s wife Carrie has also been notified by police on Tuesday that she will be fined over the COVID-19 lockdown breaches, her spokesperson said.

“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,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

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