Boris Johnson has now apologised for receiving a fixed penalty notice for attending a lockdown-busting party. In a clearly very carefully scripted statement read to camera, the Prime Minister also made it clear he hadn’t thought he was breaking the rules by attending the gathering in the Cabinet Room, which lasted ‘less than ten minutes’. ‘I have to say it did not occur to me that this might have been a breach of the rules, he said. But, he added, ‘of course the police have found otherwise and I fully accept the outcome of their investigation’. He said he had ‘paid the fine and I once again offer a full apology’.
Johnson clearly thinks that his defence of inadvertently breaking the rules is sufficient for his party (though not good enough for the police). It would not have been a couple of months ago when the partygate was at its height. But now Conservative MPs have little appetite to move against him, citing the war in Ukraine and the poor quality of candidates to replace him.
It is worth noting, though, that the police investigation is not over and the order in which the fines are being announced suggests they have yet to examine all the alleged parties that Johnson may have attended. There may be other events where he was less ‘ambushed by cake’ – as his ally Conor Burns put it – and a little more enthusiastic. And then there is the final Sue Gray report which will only come out once the police have finished their work. There is a long way to go in this story – and in the middle of it all the local elections could throw the Conservatives into a panic if there are heavy losses.
But it is still extraordinary that this evening the Prime Minister gave a statement in which he confirmed the police have said he broke the law. That’s the first time any sitting PM has been sanctioned for lawbreaking. It is even more extraordinary that he is expecting to be able to tough it out.
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