Skip to main content

Met issue first Downing Street ‘partygate’ fines

29 March 2022

By James Surallie

Following the launch of their investigation into 12 separate events alleged to have taken place in No 10 during COVID-19 restrictions, six of which the Prime Minister is said to have attended, today, the Metropolitan Police announced that they are set to issue the first fines. Despite the Met making it clear that they will not be identifying any of the people receiving fines, the spotlight will be fixed on the Prime Minister. 

In response to the announcement, opposition parties have reignited their calls for Boris Johnson to resign. Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey stated that “We all know who is responsible. The Prime Minister must resign,”, while Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner declared “The culture is set from the very top. The buck stops with the Prime Minister, who spent months lying to the British public, which is why he has got to go”. In spite of these revitalised calls, Johnson’s only concerns are the public, and his own party.   

Recognising the need to reconcile with his backbench colleagues, the Prime Minister has re-established backbench policy committees, made major changes to his Downing Street team, and promoted a number of the 2019 intake as Parliamentary Private Secretaries. 

For Conservative MPs, the decision to submit a letter of no confidence is a far more precarious one than it might have been just a few weeks ago. The Russian invasion of Ukraine significantly overshadowed ‘partygate’, and has arguably united the Conservative Party, with some MPs publicly withdrawing their letters of no confidence while Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg dismissed ‘partygate’ as “fluff” compared to the war. As is often the case in times of international crises, the Prime Minister received a boost in his approval rating (for the first time in eight months), albeit remaining at a low 25%. 

It is not only the instability that a change in Prime Minister would cause during a war in Europe that is making Conservative MPs reluctant to oust Boris Johnson, but the absence of a credible – and experienced – leader to replace him. The bookies favourite to replace Boris Johnson, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak, took a hit after receiving fierce criticism over his Spring Statement delivered last week and was subject to significant briefings against him by colleagues in the Sunday papers.  

Moreover, the next few months are expected to be a rocky time for Government with the cost-of-living-crisis set to get worse in April, and is likely to bear the brunt of voter reaction at the upcoming May elections.  

Whilst it is Conservative MPs who have the power to remove the Prime Minister,  the final decision may ultimately rely on the Met. The police have indicated that these fines are being issued to the “low-hanging fruit ”,  which will mostly mean staffers the public is not aware of, as more time will be needed to decide on the more complicated cases. But if it is later revealed that the Prime Minister is one of those who has broken the law, Conservative MPs may find Boris’ position untenable.