Rishi Sunak 'warned resigning would destroy chances of becoming prime minister'

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Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak reportedly discussed his political future after being fined for breaking COVID rules. (PA)

Allies of Rishi Sunak reportedly warned him that resigning over Partygate would effectively end any hopes he had of becoming prime minister.

According to The Times, the chancellor spent hours on Tuesday deciding whether to quit after he was issued with a fixed penalty notice for attending a lockdown-busting party in Downing Street.

Sunak, who has recently faced calls to quit over his wife’s non-dom status and his possession of a US green card, was understood to believe his position was untenable after he was fined for attending a birthday event for Boris Johnson while England was under strict COVID rules.

But friends told Sunak that his resignation could be considered an “act of regicide against Johnson” and damage his own prospects of succeeding him, The Times added.

Johnson and Sunak have both paid their fines and apologised for attending the birthday bash on 19 June, 2020.

Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson
Rishi Sunak was reportedly warned he would never become prime minister if he resigne over Partygate. (PA)

The PM said it “did not occur” to him that the gathering in the Cabinet Room to mark his 56th birthday was a violation of coronavirus rules, but that he “now humbly accepts” he did breach COVID laws.

Sunak, meanwhile, said: “I understand that for figures in public office, the rules must be applied stringently in order to maintain public confidence. I respect the decision that has been made and have paid the fine.

“I know people sacrificed a great deal during COVID, and they will find this situation upsetting. I deeply regret the frustration and anger caused and I am sorry.”

Watch: Starmer: PM and Sunak 'have to go'

Despite the apology, Sunak is also reported to be angry and "humiliated" that he has been caught up in Partygate and believes he has done nothing wrong.

In January, as more details of the birthday gathering emerged, a Treasury source revealed to Yahoo News UK that Sunak had been present at the event.

However, Yahoo News UK was told Sunak was there "unintentionally" when the cake was served because he was on his way to the the Cabinet Room for a COVID strategy committee meeting.

Screengrab taken from PA Video of Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivering a statement at his country residence Chequers, in Buckinghamshire, following the announcement that he and Chancellor Rishi Sunak will be fined as part of a police probe into allegations of lockdown parties held at Downing Street. Picture date: Tuesday April 12, 2022.
Boris Johnson delivered a statement at his country residence Chequers, Buckinghamshire, where he apologised for breaking COVID rules. (PA)

A source told The Times that Sunak “feels very badly let down by being dragged into this”.

Carrie Johnson, the prime minister’s wife, was also issued with a fine on Wednesday which has been paid.

Scotland Yard, according to a statement published by No 10, said Johnson had been fined because “on June 19 2020 at the Cabinet Room… between 14.00 and 15.00” he had been part of “a gathering of two or more people indoors”, which was banned at the time.

Johnson, speaking to broadcasters at Chequers, said he “fully respects” the outcome of the police investigation and that he accepted “in all sincerity that people had the right to expect better” from him.

Outlining the busy nature of the day the fine related to, Johnson said he chaired eight meetings in No 10 and followed them up with a four-hour round trip to a school in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire.

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak leaves after attending a Service of Thanksgiving for Britain's Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at Westminster Abbey in central London on March 29, 2022. - A thanksgiving service will take place on Tuesday for Queen Elizabeth II's late husband, Prince Philip, nearly a year after his death and funeral held under coronavirus restrictions. Philip, who was married to the queen for 73 years, died on April 9 last year aged 99, following a month-long stay in hospital with a heart complaint. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak reportedly told friends he believes he has done nothing wrong. (Getty)

He said: “There was a brief gathering in the Cabinet Room shortly after 2pm lasting for less than 10 minutes, during which people I work with kindly passed on their good wishes.

“And 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 added: “I now humbly accept that I was.

Scotland Yard on Tuesday announced a further tranche of fixed penalty notices (FPNs) in relation to Operation Hillman, which is probing possible COVID breaches in Downing Street and Whitehall, with more than 50 fines referred to the Acro Criminal Records Office since the inquiry started.

Labour has joined the chorus of demands for the Commons to be recalled from its two-week Easter break and allow Mr Johnson to “tender his resignation” in person to MPs.

But ministers have leapt to Johnson’s defence, with culture secretary Nadine Dorries arguing that the PM had “been clear about what happened” during the Cabinet Room gathering in 2020 and had “offered a full apology”.

On Wednesday, transport secretary Grant Shapps said that while the rule-breaking birthday party was "stupid" and "indefensible", the PM shouldn't resign, a cabinet minister has said.

It comes as a snap YouGov poll of 2,460 adults taken on Tuesday found that 57% of people think the PM should go, with the same proportion thinking the same about the Chancellor.

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