Now it’s a statement of fact that the prime minister has broken the law. He is considered the first British prime minister in history to be punished for this while in office, and – had he followed protocol – he would now be stepping down.
Downing Street confirmed that Johnson was fined by the London Metropolitan Police as part of an investigation into the so-called Partygate scandal. They said the fine was related to a meeting held on June 19, 2020, when Johnson’s team held an impromptu birthday party where he was presented with a cake.
Under the Covid restrictions in place at the time, indoor gatherings were not allowed and people were only allowed to meet outside in groups of up to six people.
CNN’s ITV affiliate had previously reported that two birthday meetings were held on June 19 for Johnson, one attended by up to 30 people at the Cabinet Office in the afternoon, and the other that same evening at Johnson’s residence attended by friends of the family.
Downing Street said on Tuesday that Johnson “participated in a meeting of two or more people at the Cabinet Office at 10 Downing Street” that day.
Johnson confirmed that this actually happened, but had previously disputed that it was a gathering. In January, one of Johnson’s key allies said the prime minister had “laid a cake ambush.”
Numerous other parties and gatherings were alleged to have been held in Downing Street and other government buildings at a time when the rest of the country was banned from gathering in groups due to Covid-19 regulations put in place by the Johnson government. The prime minister is accused of being aware of the meetings and, in some cases, attending them.
Johnson and his team have repeatedly brushed aside all the allegations leveled against the government. At one point, a spokesman for the prime minister told reporters that “Covid rules have always been respected.”
Johnson apologized Tuesday night, saying that while he did not think he had broken any rules at the time, he respected and accepted the police’s decision and paid the fine. He said he would not resign despite calls from all major opposition parties to step down immediately.
Speaking to Sky News, Johnson insisted that “it didn’t occur to me that this could be against the rules.” He added that, having paid the fine, he will now “focus on work.”
Trivial or toxic?
As trivial as the birthday cake encounter sounded, the scandal itself was so venomous that Johnson’s fine in connection with it caused serious damage.
It started on 30 November last year when the Daily Mirror reported that in December 2020 there were social gatherings in Downing Street that could be described as parties. Johnson denied that any rules were broken.
Shortly thereafter, a video surfaced showing his former press secretary joking about the Downing Street Christmas party. Johnson said he “was furious about it himself” but added, “I was repeatedly assured that no rules were being broken.”
In the months that followed, more allegations surfaced of Downing Street garden wine parties and Christmas quiz shows, some of which Johnson was photographed at. Downing Street said both events were held with social distancing.
The initial report on the Partygate scandal was published by senior civil servant Sue Gray. In a report commissioned by Johnson himself, 12 events were turned over to police for criminal investigation. It stated that at various times there had been “failures in leadership and judgment on the part of various parts of No. 10 and the Cabinet”. Gray will present his final report at some point in the future, although there is no fixed date.
Local Election Test
While it may seem that Johnson’s position is now untenable, it is likely that he will try to weather this crisis.
First, there is some consensus among lawmakers in Johnson’s Conservative Party — the people who could remove Johnson from office if he doesn’t resign — that now is not the time to change the prime minister, given the situation in Ukraine.
Second, local elections are due in the UK in the coming weeks, and most of these lawmakers believe that keeping Johnson in office, while fraught with risks, is a better option than changing leaders on short notice.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, it is unclear whether removing Johnson from office is the best option politically for the Conservative Party. Despite poor voting results after the scandal came to light, and huge public anger directed directly at the prime minister, it is far from certain that any other Conservative will please voters more than Johnson, who has defied political politics for most of his career. seriousness.
Rishi Sunak, Johnson’s Chancellor of the Exchequer (the second most important position in the British government), was also fined for attending the same meeting. Many viewed him as a potential candidate to succeed Johnson, but he has since been mired in both the Partygate crisis and allegations of his family’s tax arrangements.
So far, little is clear. We only have a few details about exactly what Johnson was fined for. We don’t know what’s in Gray’s final report, or how big Johnson’s appetite for resignation is, either within his own party or among the general public.
But the longer this crisis lasts, the worse it gets for Johnson. Even if clinging to power is possible, it does not mean that it is expedient. And in case the British public is finally tired of Johnson, the longer he delays the inevitable, the worse the fall from grace will be – for him and his party.