LONDON, April 14 ― UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered a “full apology” on Tuesday after being fined for breaching Covid-19 lockdown laws in the so-called “Partygate” scandal, but looked set to defy calls for his resignation.
Embattled finance minister Rishi Sunak and Johnson's wife Carrie will also be fined, as the political storm following revelations of a swathe of lockdown-busting parties in and around Downing Street threatens to engulf Johnson once more.
“Let me say immediately that I've paid the fine and I once again offer a full apology,” Johnson said during televised remarks.
Johnson's office said his fine was for attending a surprise birthday gathering in his honour on the afternoon of June 19, 2020 in the Cabinet Room at Number 10.
The prime minister said the event lasted around 10 minutes, and denied that he had lied about not knowingly breaking the law, saying: “In all frankness at that time, it did not occur to me that this might have been a breach of the rules.
“But of course the police have found otherwise and I fully respect the outcome of their investigation,” he added.
The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, swiftly called for the two most senior members of the government to resign.
“Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have broken the law and repeatedly lied to the British public,” Starmer tweeted.
“They must both resign. The Conservatives are totally unfit to govern. Britain deserves better.”
However, Johnson said he now wanted “to get on and deliver the mandate that I have”, and early signs were that his MPs were currently sticking with him.
A 'government in crisis'
Johnson was left fighting for his political survival earlier this year after several lawmakers from his ruling Conservative Party withdrew their support for his leadership over the affair.
An unknown number of Conservative MPs submitted letters calling for a no-confidence vote in Johnson's leadership.
If the Conservative Party's 1922 Committee receives such letters from 54 of Johnson's 360 MPs, it would spark a confidence vote.
The leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, called for parliament to be recalled from its Easter recess for a confidence vote.
“This is a government in crisis neglecting a country in crisis,” Davey tweeted.
But Russia's invasion of Ukraine had eased the political pressure on Johnson, with MPs seemingly reluctant to trigger a leadership amid an international crisis.
Conservative MP Roger Gale, one of those earlier calling for Johnson's head, said on Tuesday that now was not the time to “unseat” the prime minister, as this would bolster President Vladimir Putin.
“It's serious of course,” Gale said.
“But... I am not prepared to give Vladimir Putin the comfort of thinking that we are about to unseat the prime minister of the United Kingdom and destabilise the coalition against Putin.
“So any reaction to this is going to have to wait until we have dealt with the main crisis which is Ukraine and the Donbas,” he said, referring to the eastern Ukrainian region where Moscow is now concentrating its assault.
Johnson 'broke the law'
London's Metropolitan Police earlier announced they had issued more than 50 fines over the parties, without disclosing the number or identities of those being fined.
Bereaved families of victims of the Covid pandemic also called on Johnson to resign.
Lobby Akinnola, spokesman for Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said Johnson and Sunak “broke the law” and “took us all for mugs.
“There is simply no way either the prime minister or chancellor can continue... Their dishonesty has caused untold hurt to the bereaved,” he said.
“They have lost all credibility with the wider public, which could cost lives if new variants mean restrictions are needed in the future.”
London police are still investigating claims that Johnson and government officials organised and attended at least a dozen boozy events in 2020 and 2021 that violated Britain's then-strict virus curbs.
Johnson has already apologised for the parties, which included Christmas celebrations and a drink-fuelled gathering the evening before Prince Philip's funeral.
The prime minister initially denied any rule-breaking events had occurred in the complex where he lives and works, and he consistently rejected any suggestion of personal wrongdoing.
But his opponents accused him of having misled parliament by insisting the Downing Street events were work-related and within the rules. ― AFP