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Boris Johnson's rule-breaking birthday party was "stupid and indefensible", but he shouldn't resign, a cabinet minister has said.
Johnson apologised on Tuesday evening for breaking COVID lockdown rules after he was issued with a £50 fine for attending a gathering on his birthday in the Cabinet Office.
He is the first sitting British prime minister to be found to have broken the law.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps leapt to the defence of his party leader, saying he is “human” and that people “sometimes make mistakes”.
When asked on Sky News how the prime minister can “possibly remain in office”, Shapps said: “Everyone is human, people sometimes make mistakes.
"He wasn’t there for the 50 events that you are referring to, of course, and many times he was wasn’t even in the building.”
Shapps added: “And that’s what happened. It has been a very high-profile job and quite rightly, the police are investigating, they independently come to their their view. He has apologised, he has accepted responsibility. He has paid a 50 quid fine.
“The question I suppose, your question goes to the heart of, you know, did he set out to do this? Was it something that was done with malice, with intent?
“And the answer of course, is no. It’s something that happened in error, and as I have said, I’ve spoken to him, he is incredibly embarrassed by the whole thing.
“He knows that it was stupid, indefensible. But he didn’t set out to break the law, and he has paid the fixed penalty notice fine, and has a very big job to do.”
In a message to the British people on Tuesday evening, the prime minister confirmed he had paid the £50 penalty, saying it "did not occur to him at the time" that he was breaking the rules.
He also denied lying to parliament, despite telling MPs in the House of Commons that he had been assured that the guidance was followed at all times in No 10 during lockdown, saying he "spoke in completely good faith".
Johnson, his wife Carrie Johnson, and chancellor Rishi Sunak were each fined on Tuesday for attending a birthday event for the PM in No 10 on 19 June 2020.
The fines are among more than 50 fixed penalty notices (FPNs) which have now been issued over illegal gatherings in Downing Street and Whitehall during COVID restrictions.
The Met Police investigation is ongoing, meaning Johnson could be issued with further FPNs. He is alleged to have attended five further illegal gatherings.
Carrie Johnson has also paid her fine, her spokesperson confirmed.
Sunak also confirmed he had paid his fine and offered a “unreserved apology”, signalling he would stay in his job.
Johnson has repeatedly denied that any rule-breaking events took place in Downing Street, or that he himself had broken restrictions.
On 8 December, he told the House of Commons: "I apologise for the impression that has been given that staff in Downing Street take this less than seriously. I am sickened myself and furious about that, but I repeat what I have said to him: I have been repeatedly assured that the rules were not broken.
"I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no COVID rules were broken.”
Just a month later he issued a grovelling apology to a packed House of Commons, admitting he attended an event where No 10 staff were invited to "bring their own booze" to make the "most of the lovely weather".
He said he believed it had been a “work event”.
Sunak has also repeatedly denied taking part in any lockdown breaking events.