Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak reject calls to resign over lockdown fines

By Jennifer Scott
Political reporter, BBC News

Boris Johnson and Rishi SunakImage source, No 10
Image caption,
Both the prime minister and chancellor have rejected calls from opposition parties to leave Downing Street

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have rejected calls to resign, despite being fined by police for breaking lockdown rules in Downing Street in June 2020.

The prime minister, the chancellor and the PM's wife all received fixed penalty notices for attending a birthday gathering for the PM in No 10.

As a result, Mr Johnson became the UK's first serving prime minister to be sanctioned for breaking the law.

All three apologised, but opposition MPs say the PM and Mr Sunak must quit.

Mr Johnson said he felt "an even greater sense of obligation to deliver", while the chancellor said he was "focused on delivering for the British people".

'Mortified'

But a group representing bereaved families said there was "simply no way" either could continue in their jobs, calling their actions "truly shameless".

Amanda McEgan, whose daughter Isabel died during the pandemic, said the prime minister's conduct during the lockdowns made restrictions on the 19-year-old's funeral "more hurtful".

Opposition parties accused Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak of lying to the public about their attendance at the Downing Street gathering, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and the first ministers of Scotland and Wales demanding they step down.

The SNP and the Liberal Democrats also led calls for Parliament to return from its Easter break so the PM and chancellor could face questions from MPs.

Media caption,

Grant Shapps: PM is mortified over party fines

Nearly all cabinet ministers have publicly backed Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak - including Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who said they were "delivering for Britain on many fronts".

Nigel Mills is currently the only Tory MP known to have said publicly that Mr Johnson should go, telling BBC Radio Derby: "I don't think his position is tenable".

Others who called for him to resign earlier in the year, including Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, have now said they don't think he should.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Mr Johnson was "mortified" about being fined, but argued he had not "set out with malice to break the law".

He told BBC Breakfast he understood public anger over the parties, but added: "Everyone is human. People make mistakes".

'Right to expect better'

The fines come as part of an investigation by the Metropolitan Police into illegal parties held in Downing Street and across Whitehall during Covid lockdowns in 2020 and 2021.

The force is looking into 12 parties overall, and has already issued more than 50 fines, with more expected to come.

Media caption,

Johnson: I fell short in observing the rules

Speaking on Tuesday, the PM said he accepted "in all sincerity that people had the right to expect better" from him.

He claimed the event he was fined for attending - a gathering in the Cabinet Room to mark his birthday - was "brief" and lasted "less than 10 minutes".

He added: "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."

A spokesperson for the prime minister's wife, Carrie Johnson, said she had accepted the police's findings and "apologises unreservedly."

Mr Sunak later released a statement, saying: "I understand that for figures in public office, the rules must be applied stringently in order to maintain public confidence.

"I respect the decision that has been made and have paid the fine."

But the "full" and "unreserved" apologies did not silence critics of the PM and chancellor.

Labour's deputy leader, Angela Rayner, tweeted: "You made the rules. You broke your own law. Just go."

The SNP's Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, said the two leading Tories had "insulted the millions of people who faithfully followed the rules".

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: "This is a government in crisis neglecting a country in crisis."

Media caption,

Starmer: Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have to go

Reports of parties being held in Downing Street during lockdowns first emerged in December last year, with Mr Johnson initially insisting that "guidelines were followed at all times".

Mr Sunak also told the Commons: "I did not attend any parties."

The PM then ordered an inquiry into the allegations of rule-breaking, led by senior civil servant Sue Gray.

The Met initially said it would not retrospectively investigate the allegations unless "significant evidence" of a regulation breach came forward.

But after Ms Gray passed information to officers, they launched their own inquiry.

Her full report will not be released until the Met have concluded their investigation.

Timeline: Downing St gatherings

The government has faced intense pressure over gatherings held in and around Downing Street during Covid lockdowns. A police investigation into several of the events has now concluded, with more than 100 fines having been issued to attendees. Here is what we know about the gatherings and the restrictions in place at the time:

A photo from May 2020 showed the prime minister and his staff with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard in the Downing Street garden. When asked about it, Boris Johnson said "those people were at work talking about work".

Boris Johnson was pictured with his wife Carrie as well as Downing Street staff
Image caption Boris Johnson was pictured with his wife Carrie as well as Downing Street staff Image copyright by Guardian/Eyevine

The rules:

Legal restrictions at the time said you could not leave your house without a reasonable excuse and government guidance was that you could meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor setting while exercising.

This event was not investigated by the police.

About 100 people were invited by email to "socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden this evening". Witnesses told the BBC the PM and his wife were among about 30 people who attended.

Boris Johnson apologised to MPs for attending the event, saying he spent 25 minutes thanking staff, before returning to his office.

The police investigation determined that this event did breach the rules in place at the time.

A gathering took place in the Cabinet Office to mark the departure of a No 10 private secretary.

The police investigation determined that this event did breach the rules in place at the time.

We know at least one fine has been issued after the government's former head of ethics admitted receiving one and apologised for attending the event.

On Boris Johnson’s birthday, up to 30 people gathered in the Cabinet Room at No 10 to present the prime minister with a birthday cake and sing Happy Birthday, according to a report by ITV News.

No 10 said staff had "gathered briefly" to "wish the prime minister a happy birthday", adding that he had been there "for less than 10 minutes".

The rules:

Restrictions at the time banned most indoor gatherings involving more than two people.

The police investigation determined that this event did breach the rules in place at the time.

We know at least three attendees have received fines from the police, with the PM, his wife Carrie Symonds and Chancellor Rishi Sunak all confirming they have paid fixed penalty notices.

Two gatherings are understood to have taken place in Downing Street on this date: one to mark the departure of a special adviser and one in the Downing Street flat.

According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, the gathering in the flat where Mr Johnson and his wife live was to celebrate the departure of Dominic Cummings, the PM's former senior adviser. A spokesman for Mrs Johnson denies the party took place.

Boris Johnson pictured at a party, according to ITV News
Image caption Boris Johnson pictured at a party, according to ITV News Image copyright by ITV News

The rules:

Eight days earlier Boris Johnson had announced a new lockdown in England. Indoor gatherings with other households were banned, unless they were for work purposes.

The police investigation determined that an event on this date did breach the rules in place at the time but they have not confirmed whether it was one or both of the events.

A leaving event was held for No 10 aide, Cleo Watson, where people were drinking, and Mr Johnson made a speech, according to sources.

This event was not investigated by the police.

The Department for Education has confirmed it had an office gathering to thank staff for their work during the pandemic. It says drinks and snacks were brought by those who attended and no outside guests or support staff were invited.

The rules:

Eight days earlier, London had been placed in restrictions which banned two or more people from different households from meeting indoors, unless "reasonably necessary" for work purposes.

This event was not investigated by the police.

The Conservative Party has admitted that an "unauthorised gathering" took place at its HQ in Westminster. It was held by the team of the party's London-mayoral candidate, Shaun Bailey, who has since stepped down as chair of the London Assembly police and crime committee.

In December, police said they would be contacting two people who attended the party.

The gathering at the Conservative Party headquarters was described as ‘raucous’
Image caption The gathering at the Conservative Party headquarters was described as ‘raucous’ Image copyright by Daily Mirror

This event was not included in Sue Gray's report.

Multiple sources have told the BBC there was a Christmas quiz for No 10 staff last year. A photo - published by the Sunday Mirror - shows Boris Johnson taking part and sitting between two colleagues in No 10. Mr Johnson has denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Johnson was pictured in the No 10 library under a portrait of Margaret Thatcher
Image caption Mr Johnson was pictured in the No 10 library under a portrait of Margaret Thatcher Image copyright by Sunday Mirror

The rules: At this time, the rules in London banned two or more people from different households from meeting indoors, unless "reasonably necessary" for work purposes.

This event was not investigated by the police.

The Department for Transport has apologised after confirming reports of a party in its offices, calling it "inappropriate" and an "error of judgment" by staff.

This event was not included in Sue Gray's report.

A leaving party was held at the Cabinet Office for the outgoing head of the civil service Covid taskforce - the team responsible for drawing up coronavirus restrictions.

Kate Josephs, now chief executive of Sheffield City Council, apologised for the event, saying she was "truly sorry that I did this and for the anger that people will feel as a result".

A second gathering was held in the Cabinet Office to hold an online Christmas quiz for the Cabinet Secretary’s private office.

A third gathering was held in No 10 Downing Street to mark the departure of a No 10 official

The police investigation determined that an event on this date did breach the rules in place at the time but they have not confirmed whether it was one or all of the events.

Downing Street originally denied a report by the Daily Mirror that a party took place in Downing Street on this date.

However, a video obtained by ITV News showed the prime minister's then-press secretary Allegra Stratton joking about reports of the event, saying: "This fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced."

The police investigation determined that this event did breach the rules in place at the time.

A gathering was held in No 10 Downing Street to mark the departure of two private secretaries.

The police investigation determined that this event did breach the rules in place at the time.

Two parties were held by Downing Street staff at No 10, the night before Prince Philip's funeral.

One of the events was a leaving party for the PM's then director of communications James Slack, who has apologised for the event and acknowledged it "should not have happened at the time that it did".

Boris Johnson was not at either party.

The rules

The rules had been eased in England on 12 April, but working from home continued to be recommended and socialising indoors with people from other households was not allowed. Meeting others outdoors was limited to groups of six people or two households.

The police investigation determined that an event on this date did breach the rules in place at the time but they have not confirmed whether it was one or both of the events.

We know fines have been issued to some people who attended Mr Slack’s leaving party, but we do not know who they were issued to.