Tory chairman says ‘quite a speculation’ to think PM will receive more fines
The Tory Party chairman said it is “quite a speculation” to suggest the Prime Minister will receive further fines as part of the police investigation into claims of lockdown parties in No 10.
Downing Street is said to be braced for Boris Johnson to receive a second fixed-penalty notice (FPN) after police reportedly began issuing fines on Friday relating to a “bring your own bottle” drinks do in the No 10 garden on May 20 2020.
Oliver Dowden appeared to argue it was not a sure bet that the Conservative Party leader would be slapped with a second £50 punishment for breaking his own coronavirus laws.
The Cabinet minister, asked on the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme about the prospect of additional fines for Mr Johnson, said: “I think in relation to these fines, we just have to let the police investigation happen.
“I think it is quite a speculation to assume there will be more fines issued.”
No 10 said on Friday the Prime Minister had not been fined in relation to the BYOB gathering, but he has previously admitted attending the gathering, held during England’s first lockdown, for around 25 minutes.
Mr Johnson has insisted to MPs that he believed it was a work event to thank staff for their efforts during the pandemic.
The Metropolitan Police has already fined Mr Johnson, along with his wife Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak, for their part in a birthday bash for the Prime Minister held in June 2020 when Covid rules banned indoor gatherings.
About 30 guests are said to have sung Happy Birthday to him in the Cabinet room.
Offering a resolute defence of Mr Johnson’s handling of the so-called partygate affair, Conservative chairman Mr Dowden said he did not think a no confidence vote in the Prime Minister had become inevitable as some members of his party have argued.
He also said he believed the Prime Minister would lead the Tories into the next general election, which is currently scheduled for no later than January 2025.
The former culture secretary argued that changing the leader of the country during the current cost-of-living crisis and with a war raging in Ukraine would create “instability and uncertainty”.
However, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told the BBC the Prime Minister’s authority had been “shot through” by the allegations surrounding him and his administration.
Sir Keir called Downing Street “probably the most fined workplace in the whole of the United Kingdom”, adding: “And we’re not at the end of these fines yet.”
In a separate interview with the Sunday Mirror, the opposition leader hit out at the Met for failing to disclose how many partygate fines are being issued ahead of local elections next month.
The force said it would not be giving an update on FPNs before the May 5 poll, although No 10 has vowed to announce whether the PM or the Cabinet Secretary receive fines in the run-up to the vote.
Sir Keir, a former director of public prosecutions, said the police “should continue to take their decisions and make those decisions public as they were before”.
“The Met police should not have changed their practice,” he told the newspaper.
“Criminal charges are brought all the time, elections or no elections. It’s in the public interest to know who has received fines, particularly those high up in Government.”
Jacob Rees-Mogg fired back at Sir Keir, who in interviews said the cost-of-living crisis was the “number one issue” in the lead-up to the local elections, and argued the events of two years ago were “not the most pressing political issue by any means”.
The Brexit opportunities minister told GB News: “You had Keir Starmer drinking a beer and Nicola Sturgeon not wearing a mask when she thought everyone else should.
“The police didn’t mind about either of those, but the Prime Minister has paid his fine,” added Mr Rees-Mogg, who stated that Mr Johnson was “definitely” the right person to lead the Tories and Britain.
MPs agreed last week that Mr Johnson should face a parliamentary probe on whether he misled the House of Commons when previously batting away accusations of rule-breaches in Downing Street.
The Privileges Committee probe is due to commence after the Scotland Yard inquiry has been wrapped up.
Mr Dowden said he did not believe the Prime Minister had misled Parliament.
Pressed on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme about whether Mr Johnson would have to resign if MPs on the committee found otherwise, he replied: “I think there is a very strong case for the Prime Minister remaining in office.
“But, as you alluded to, you would expect me to say it is a hypothetical scenario, so I’m not going to get into commentary on that.”