Boris Johnson: PM apologises over partygate fine as he is accused of starting Downing Street party

Boris Johnson faced MPs after being issued a fixed penalty fine as police investigate lockdown breaches in Downing Street and Whitehall in 2020 and 2021

Boris Johnson will this week defend his premiership again as he prepares to insist to MPs there are bigger issues to focus on than the partygate saga.

The Prime Minister faced questions from MPs in the House of Commons over his partygate fine.

Critics claim Mr Johnson has deliberately misled Parliament, which is usually grounds for resigning, by claiming repeatedly that no Covid rules were broken in No 10.

Boris Johnson is facing fresh allegations in the No 10 partygate saga (Composite: Kim Mogg / JPIMedia)

What did the PM say?

Mr Johnson gave a statement in the Commons on Tuesday afternoon (19 April) when the House reconvened after an 18-day recess.

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He apologised for breaking Covid rules by attending a party in Downing Street while restrictions were in place.

Despite being issued with a £50 fixed penalty notice by the Metropolitan Police for his birthday bash held in the Cabinet room in June 2020, the PM told MPs that this should not be the focus of politicians.

He emphasised the dangers of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, and his role in leading the UK’s response, in a bid to persuade Tory backbenchers not to seek a move against him.

Mr Johnson insisted he did not intentionally mislead Parliament with his earlier denials of rule-breaking parties.

Addressing the House Mr Johnson apologised for the “mistake” that saw him fined by police over the event in No 10 for his birthday in June 2020.

“Let me also say, not by way of mitigation or excuse but purely because it explains my previous words in this House, that it did not occur to me then or subsequently that a gathering in the Cabinet Room just before a vital meeting on Covid strategy could amount to a breach of the rules,” he said.

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“I repeat that was my mistake and I apologise for it unreservedly.”

Facing shouts of “resign”, Mr Johnson argued he feels an “even greater sense of obligation” to fulfil his duties as Prime Minister and to respond to the invasion of Ukraine.

What else is in store for the PM this week?

As well as addressing MPs in the Chamber, The Times reports  that Mr Johnson will speak to a meeting of the entire Conservative parliamentary party on Tuesday evening.

Less than 24 hours later, he will face his first session of Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday (20 April) since he was fined by police last week.

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle approved an application from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and other opposition MPs allowing them to table a motion after Mr Johnson was fined by police for breaching his own Covid laws.

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Labour is understood to be wording the motion to make Thursday’s vote about whether to refer Mr Johnson to the Committee of Privileges, which examines issues relating to contempt of Parliament.

Mr Johnson is seeking to push ahead with his visit to India this week despite it clashing with the key Commons vote on whether he lied to Parliament about coronavirus breaches.

Government sources insisted the Prime Minister’s trip for talks with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi was “definitely happening” despite pressure to cancel it so he can attend Thursday’s debate.

Sir Keir said: “Boris Johnson is the first Prime Minister in our country’s history to have broken the law. He broke the law at a time when the British people were making unimaginable sacrifices, and then lied about it repeatedly. He is unfit for office and every day he remains in Downing Street degrades his office further.

“The Cabinet, ministers and Tory MPs must realise this is not going to change and every time they defend Boris Johnson, they embroil themselves in his web of lies. Are they really prepared to stand by and do nothing as his behaviour brings their party into disrepute?

“Only Conservative MPs have the power to bring this shameful saga to a close. If the Prime Minister is not going to resign, then they must take action when Parliament returns this week to send a clear message that honesty and integrity in public life still matters.”

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Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg indicated the defence Mr Johnson may take in response. Speaking to BBC Radio 4 on Sunday, he said: “I think that when you hear what happened on the party for which he has been fined, many people would think that they were in accordance with the rules, when they were meeting people they were with every day, who happened to wish them a happy birthday, because that was the day it was.

“I think that was a perfectly rational thing to believe. Now the police have decided otherwise and the police have an authority. But he wasn’t thinking something irrational or unreasonable, that that was within the rules.”

What are the latest revelations?

Police have been investigating 12 events held in Downing Street and Whitehall in 2020 and 2021 which are thought to have been in breach of Covid lockdown rules.

More than 50 fines have been announced in relation to the events so far, with the investigation still ongoing.

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Mr Johnson is understood to have attended six of those gatherings and was last week issued a £50 fixed penalty notice for attending a birthday bash held for him in June 2020. Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Carrie Johnson were also fined for being present at the event.

The latest claims, aired in the Sunday Times over the weekend, concern an event held on 13 November 2020 for Number 10 director of communications Lee Cain, with a photographer taking pictures.

Mr Johnson is accused of not only attending the leaving drinks for the former communications chief, but instigating the do.

He then reportedly returned to his flat above 11 Downing Street, where a second gathering involving his wife and her friends is claimed to have taken place.

Members of the press team downstairs are said to have heard Abba music blaring from the flat.