UK

Bereaved Covid families boo MPs at Boris Johnson’s dinner as ‘partygate’ fines issued

Political Editor Robert Peston explains whether or not Boris Johnson knowingly misled MPs with his partygate comments


Tory ministers were heckled by bereaved families of Covid victims shouting “off to another party are we?” after it was announced that 20 fines relating to the Met police partygate investigation will be issued.

The jeers were aimed at senior Tory MPs, including Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove, as they arrived to attend a dinner held by Boris Johnson at the Park Plaza, a luxury hotel near Westminster Bridge.

Dozens of grief-stricken relatives who lost loved ones during the pandemic lined up outside the entrance on Tuesday evening to boo guests, which included Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

Shouts of “shame on you” and “off to another party are we?” were directed at Mr Gove and Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg.

ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand was questioning Conservative MPs as they arrived at the hotel.

Simon Mundell, the former Scotland Secretary, said the gathering was just “colleagues getting together” when asked if this “party would help him forget all the other parties in No10?”

The protests came after the Met, which is investigating at least 12 allegedly illegal gatherings on government premises during the coronavirus pandemic, confirmed it will not release the names of the individuals it fines.

Mr Johnson is not thought to be among those set to receive fines, with his spokesperson telling journalists: “We’ve said we’ll update if that were to occur, but our position has not changed.”

More than 100 people were under investigation over alleged Covid breaches and it is understood that more fines are likely to follow as Operation Hillman, as the probe is known, progresses.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is one of those being investigated for potential Covid breaches. Credit: PA

It is possible that some people will receive more than one fine, meaning the 20 fines to be issued may not necessarily mean 20 people are being fined.

The announcement of fines marks the first confirmation that the law was breached by people in government, despite the repeated insistence from Number 10 that rules were followed at all times during lockdown.

The Met said it will refer the fines to the ACRO Criminal Records Office, which will then be responsible for issuing the fixed penalty notices to the individuals.

June Newbon, who lost her husband to the virus, branded the evening “disgusting” in light of the Met’s conclusion that it believes laws were broken at the heart of government. She said holding a lavish dinner was especially inappropriate given the cost-of-living crisis hitting millions of people and the war in Ukraine. “I think it’s disgusting,” she said from outside the hotel. “No-one else can afford to do this given the prices going up, and the war as well.” Ms Newbon and her daughter Ellie said Conservative politicians would be better placed attending the candlelit procession to mark the first anniversary of the National Covid Memorial Wall, a planned event near the hotel on Westminster Bridge.

Bereaved families gather to mark the one-year anniversary of National Covid Memorial Wall, London. Credit: PA

Hundreds of bereaved relatives turned up to the walk on Tuesday to commemorate their loved ones and call for the mural to be made permanent. “I think someone should make their presence known down at the bridge today instead,” Ms Newbon said. “I think that’s the respect they owe us.”

The war in Ukraine has pushed the partygate scandal out of the headlines but scrutiny has begun to re-emerge as the Met’s investigation progresses.

Several MPs had submitted letters of no confidence in the PM in a bid to remove him over the partygate scandal, however many had said they’d wait for investigations to conclude to see whether he had knowingly lied to Parliament – a charge numerous MPs say should result in a resignation.

Labour says the issuing of fines proves the prime minister misled Parliament, with his repeated denials of parties taking place on Downing Street while Covid regulations meant most other people were being forced to stay home.

Downing Street has denied Mr Johnson misled the House of Commons when he told MPs that the Covid regulations had not been broken in No 10.

“At all times he has set out his understanding of events,” the PM’s official spokesperson said.

The Cabinet Office said it would not be appropriate to comment on the first 20 partygate fines while the police investigation continues.

Met Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick refused to answer questions from ITV News after the fines announcement was made.

UK Editor Paul Brand was asking about the implications of the force not launching its investigation sooner, despite evidence uncovered by journalists suggesting laws had been broken well before police inquiries began.

ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston said the fines show 10 Downing Street was “party central” during the pandemic.

He said that Mr Johnson must make a full disclosure explaining the set of events which led him to tell MPs in the Commons that there were no parties and rules weren’t broken.

“If a minister knowingly misleads MPs, under British conventions they have to resign,” he said, “so the onus on the PM now is to tell us who it was that misled him that there was no party and that no rules were broken.”

Peston added: “It’s a very serious day for the prime minister, not just because there is still a possibility that he himself will be fined – and there are plenty of his MPs who say ‘if he’s fined he definitely has to resign’ – but because he has not yet explained to us what it was that went wrong in Parliament that he told his MPs there were no parties and no rules were broken.”

It is understood a number of MPs have withdrawn their letters of no confidence amid the PM’s support of Ukraine against Russia, but it is likely more letters would be submitted if Mr Johnson is fined.

It takes 54 letters of no confidence to trigger a vote on Mr Johnson’s leadership, which would result in a new leadership election if he loses – but less than 10 Tory MPs have publicly revealed they’ve submitted letters.

Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner said the fines showed “Boris Johnson’s Downing Street has been found guilty of breaking the law” and called on him once again to resign”.

She added: “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.

“It is disgraceful that while the rest of the country followed their rules, Boris Johnson’s government acted like they did not apply to them.

“This has been a slap in the face of the millions of people who made huge sacrifices.“

In a statement updating on the partygate probe, the Met Police said: “We are making every effort to progress this investigation at speed and have completed a number of assessments.

“However due to the significant amount of investigative material that remains to be assessed, further referrals may be made to ACRO if the evidential threshold is made.”

It added that in accordance with standard practice, “identities of people dealt with by cautions, speeding fines and other fixed penalties – out-of-court disposals – should not be released or confirmed”.

“We will not confirm the number of referrals from each individual event subject to our investigation as providing a breakdown at this point may lead to identification of the individuals.”

The Met launched its probe after being passed evidence of potential criminality by civil servant Sue Gray, who was drafted in to carry out an internal inquiry after the previously appointed investigator, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, was stood down.

The government said it will reveal if Mr Case – who is alleged to have briefly attended one of the events – is fined.

The prime minister’s spokesperson said they would clarify the situation regarding Mr Case, given his “unique position” as the UK’s top civil servant.

Fines start at £100 for the first offence, growing to £200 for the second offence before doubling for each repeat offence before hitting the cap of £6,400.

Any individual is entitled to appeal their fine, which could see the appellant appear in court.

A fixed penalty notice is not a criminal conviction, yet it can be recorded on the Police National Computer – it is the equivalent to a minor speeding offence.

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