By Joe Cooper
Downing Street was rocked this afternoon by the news that Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are both to be issued fines by the police for breaking lockdown laws.
Earlier today, officials confirmed that the pair, along with the Prime Minister’s wife Carrie Johnson, had received notification of the fines from the Met Police following an investigation into a series of potentially illegal parties held in Downing Street.
Though it has yet to be confirmed which of these gatherings the fines relate to, the three were reported to have been at the same party for the Prime Minister’s birthday in June 2020. This latest development comes as part of another wave of 30 fines today from the police for breaches of lockdown regulations at gatherings across Whitehall and Downing Street, taking the total number of fines for breaches to over 50.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon have both called on the occupiers of No 10 and No 11 to resign, with the former accusing the Prime Minister and Chancellor of “breaking the law and repeatedly lying to the British public”.
This latest development in the story that is ‘Partygate’ comes after weeks of contrasting fortunes for the Prime Minister and Chancellor.
For Sunak, the fine is the latest in a series of mounting pressures, following an underwhelming Spring Statement package in response to the ongoing energy and cost of living crises, while speculation about his wife’s tax status as a non-Domicile (non-dom) in addition to his ownership of an American Green Card posed further questions about his suitability for the role and his longer-term ambitions as Chancellor or even Prime Minister.More worryingly for the Chancellor was the rather mooted response from the backbenches and from No.10 to last week’s developments. Having spent much of the past two years cultivating a supporter base within the party for a potential leadership bid, the lack of supporters willing to come out to bat for the Chancellor over the weekend may be an indication that his support is not as deep as previously suspected.
While he had largely managed to avoid much of the fire for Partygate until now, this fine is the latest setback and sees further shine taken off the previously slick brand Rishi. If reports are to be believed over the weekend that the Chancellor had given serious thought to tendering his resignation, expect further difficult conversations to be had within government in the coming hours and days ahead.
Despite spending his weekend in a warzone meeting President Zelensky in Kyiv, the Prime Minister found himself enjoying a much contrasting change of fortunes to his neighbour in No.11. The decision to meet with the Ukrainian president won plaudits across Europe and further cemented the UK’s status as one of Ukraine’s leading partners in the response to the Russian invasion.
Yet again though, the Prime Minister finds himself embroiled in the Partygate scandal with further questions likely to be raised about his culpability and suitability for high office.
Though exact details are yet to emerge regarding which particular infraction resulted in today’s fine, the Prime Minister will be heartened by some of the initial reactions from his colleagues within the Conservative Party. Leader of the Scottish Conservatives Douglas Ross MP, who had previously called on the Prime Minister to resign over the string of parties, has stated that given the situation in Ukraine, now would not be the right time for him to resign, while another figure who’d previously called for the PM’s resignation, Sir Roger Gale MP, also questioned whether now was the right time for a change in leadership.
While perceptions about the Prime Minister’s competent handling of the situation in Ukraine may have taken some of the immediate heat off him, the resurfacing of the Partygatestory is likely to result in the mounting of further pressure from the backbenches, particularly with local elections only weeks away. With further details of the infractions to emerge, it looks increasingly likely that the party may be over for Number 10 and Number 11.