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Minister Says "Frustrating" Partygate Fallout Could Have Been Handled "A Lot Better"

3 min read

Business minister Paul Scully has defended the Prime Minister over a police fine he received for attending a gathering in Downing Street during lockdown, but admitted there was "palpable anger" among the public.

Boris Johnson will today face a further grilling at Prime Minister's Questions over the Partygate fines after he offered an "unreserved" apology to the Commons for his attendance at lockdown-breaching gatherings in Whitehall.

Scully defended Johnson this morning, and said he believed that while the Prime Minister had made the decision to attend a birthday party in Downing Street on 19 June 2020 in the "heat of the moment", he had since been "contrite" about the incident.

"The Prime Minister interpreted what he felt was the law, the guidance at the time," Scully told Sky News. 

"He took his decision in the heat of the moment but he's accepted he's done wrong. He's accepted he made a mistake, and he made a full apology 30 times yesterday in his statement.

"I don't think anyone can really see that and think that he wasn't contrite."

Speaking to MPs on Tuesday, Johnson said he had paid the fine "immediately" and "acknowledged the hurt and the anger" among the public.

But Labour leader Keir Starmer accused Johnson of making a "mealy mouthed apology" and desrcibed his response as a "joke", before calling for the Prime Minister to resign.

Speaking to Times Radio, Scully added that after 120,000 Covid deaths in the UK he accepted that the scandal over lockdown parties in Downing Street had caused "palpable anger out there" and said the government's response had been "frustrating".

"You can get hung up on a particular level of wording two years on when you're looking at things through a different prism," he said.

"We could have handled this a lot better. It is frustrating. It is a distraction. That's why I'm really keen that we wait for Sue Gray to report."

Gray, a senior civil servant tasked with investigating the string of parties held in Downing Street and Whitehall during a time when events were severely prohibited in the UK, is expected to release her full findings in the coming months. 

Scully also said the Prime Minister could rely on a "similar defence" that he did not understand that he was breaking the rules at the time if he is fined by the Metropolitan Police again over further breaches of the lockdown rules. More fines are expected as the Met continues its investigation into Whitehall gatherings.

"We need to look at each of those events in the round, they may be different circumstances," he said.

"There may be a similar view, a similar defence that the Prime Minister is taking in terms of that he believed it was within a workplace situation with the same people that he was literally just heading to a meetings within minutes afterwards, but we will have to see, that's why it's difficult to speculate at this point."

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