Tuesday Apr 12 2022

British PM Boris Johnson and finance minister to be fined over lockdown parties

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak react at a statement on the economic update session, at the House of Commons in London, Britain March 23, 2022. — Reuters
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak react at a statement on the economic update session, at the House of Commons in London, Britain March 23, 2022. — Reuters

  • Police investigating parties at PM's office during lockdowns.
  • Johnson's office says he and minister Sunak will be fined.
  • Johnson's wife also to be fined.

LONDON: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his finance minister Rishi Sunak are to receive fines for breaching strict coronavirus lockdown rules, the government said on Tuesday, prompting calls for them both to resign.

Police have been investigating 12 gatherings at Johnson's Downing Street office and the Cabinet Office after a damning internal inquiry found his staff had enjoyed alcohol-fuelled parties that should not have been allowed. 

Johnson said he had attended a few of the events, but has always denied knowingly committing any wrongdoing.

"The prime minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer have today received notification that the Metropolitan Police intend to issue them with fixed penalty notices," a government spokesperson said.

"We have no further details, but we will update you again when we do."

A spokesperson for Johnson's wife Carrie said she would also be fined. 

Some of the gatherings took place when people could not attend funerals or say farewell to loved ones dying in hospital because they were following rules set by Johnson's government.

After the events were first reported in late 2021, Johnson said there were no parties and that all rules were followed. 

He later apologised to parliament for attending one event, which he said he thought was work-related and also said sorry to Queen Elizabeth for another at which staff partied on the eve of her husband's funeral.

The COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK group said it was "still unbelievably painful" that Johnson had broken his own rules when they were unable to be with loved ones as they died.

"The fact that @BorisJohnson and @RishiSunak then lied about it, and would have continued to do so if the police hadn’t intervened, is truly shameless," the group said on Twitter.

"There is simply no way either the Prime Minister or Chancellor can continue. Their dishonesty has caused untold hurt to the bereaved."

'Must resign'

Opponents also called for Johnson and Sunak to quit, saying they had misled parliament about their actions.

"Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have broken the law and repeatedly lied to the British public. They must both resign," said Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour Party.

The Liberal Democrats called for parliament to be recalled immediately from its Easter holiday and for there to be a vote of no-confidence in Johnson.

However, the prime minister's immediate future will be determined by lawmakers in his own Conservative Party, who can trigger a leadership challenge if 54 of the 360 who sit in parliament demand a confidence vote. 

Earlier this year a number of Conservatives called for him to quit as public trust plummeted over the "partygate" affair and support for the government shrank.

But the initial outcry was dampened by the Ukraine war in which Johnson had sought to play a major role in rallying Western nations against Russian President Vladimir Putin, and some of those who have previously called for his head said now was not the time for him to go.

"In the middle of war in Europe, when Vladimir Putin is committing war crimes and the UK is Ukraine's biggest ally, as President (Volodymyr) Zelenskiy said at the weekend, it wouldn't be right to remove the prime minister at this time," said Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservative Party.

However, the news caps a terrible week for Sunak, whose position was already facing serious questions about his family's finances just as large tax rises for the public took effect.

He has been under fire over the disclosure that he only gave up a US "green card" - an immigration status intended for permanent US residents - after he became finance minister in 2020, and over a newspaper report that he was a beneficiary of offshore trusts linked to his wife's family business interests.

On Sunday Sunak asked Johnson to refer his ministerial declarations to Christopher Geidt, the independent adviser on ministers' interests, to determine whether he had stuck to the rules on financial declarations. 

That came after his wife Akshata Murty, who owns about 0.9% of Indian IT giant Infosys, confirmed that she had non-domiciled tax status, meaning she did not pay tax on earnings from outside Britain. She said on Friday she would now pay British tax on foreign income after days of criticism.

The announcement from Johnson's office came hours after the police said they had made more than 50 referrals for fixed penalty notices, or fines, to those who had attended the illegal gatherings at Downing Street or other government offices.

"We are making every effort to progress this investigation at speed, this includes continuing to assess significant amounts of investigative material from which further referrals may be made," police said in a statement.