Minister Says Boris Johnson Knows Lockdown Party Was “Stupid And Indefensible”
Transport secretary Grant Shapps has said the Prime Minister was “completely mortified” after he was forced to pay a fine for breaking Covid-19 regulations in July 2020.
The Met Police announced on Tuesday that it had recommended both the Prime Minister and Chancellor be issued with Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) over events held in Downing Street during lockdown.
Number 10 later said that Johnson’s fine was related to involvement in an event held on 19 June 2020 — a gathering held for his birthday.
“He’s incredibly embarrassed – he knows it was stupid, indefensible,” Shapps told Sky News.
“He is completely mortified by this happening, and we know now a lot more about the day itself as well, because we understand about the meetings that were going on, eight separate meetings that day for the Prime Minister.
“[He] went out and visited a school and came back and, by surprise, some of his team had arranged to wish him happy birthday.”
Shapps also confirmed that, as stated by Boris Johnson on Tuesday, that the £50 fine issued to the Prime Minister had been paid.
He continued: “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.”
Shapps added that Johnson attended the “surprise event for nine minutes”, and insisted that the Prime Minister “didn’t knowingly break the law”.
“He didn’t knowingly break the law. He didn’t do it deliberately. He thought that people wishing him happy birthday was not breaking the law.”
The transport secretary went on to insist that Johnson was “an honourable man” who was also “flawed” as all humans were.
Johnson has faced calls to resign after he became the first sitting Prime Minister to be hit with criminal sanctions while in office.
He was among the latest swathe of FPNs issued by the Met Police on Tuesday, which brough the total number of fines so far relating to events in Downing Street and Whitehall during lockdown to 50.
The Prime Minister was fined alongside his wife, Carrie Johnson, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak for attending a brief party held on 19 June 2020 to mark the Prime Minister’s 56th birthday.
In a televised statement, Johnson said he had already paid the fixed-penalty notice as he said he planned to "get on" with his job.
"There was a brief gathering in the cabinet room shortly after 2pm lasting for less than 10 minutes during which people I worked with kindly passed on their good wishes. I have to say in all frankness at that time, it did not occur to me that this might have been a breach of the rules," he said.
Labour leader Keir Starmer has called for the Prime Minister and Chancellor to resign over the fines.
“They’ve dishonoured all of that sacrifice, they’ve dishonoured their office," he said on Tuesday.
“This is the first time in the history of our country that a Prime Minister has been found to be in breach of the law, and then he lied repeatedly to the public about it. Britain deserves better, they have to go.”
But PoliticsHome understands many Tory MPs have sought to ride out the backlash. Unlike during previous waves of the “partygate” saga, very few backbenchers chose to interrupt their Easter recess break by coming out either for or against the Prime Minister.
This is despite many having previously suggested to PoliticsHome that Johnson receiving a FPN would be the final straw for their wavering support.
Several other MPs told PoliticsHome they had no comment to make on the matter while journalists across the political spectrum wrote on Twitter that they had also received a “wall of silence” from Tories.
A handful of Tory MPs did privately express exasperation at the fines, but few explicitly called for Johnson’s resignation, and those who did break cover doubled down on their support.
“The issuing of the fine confirms what many of us had long suspected — the prime minister broke his own rules and, perhaps worse, still lied about it to Parliament,” a former Tory minister told PoliticsHome.
“For any other politician this would be game over but Johnson will of course try to brazen it out and hope that people forgive and forget.”
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