Met Police confirms 20 partygate fines as more are expected
First results of Operation Hillman are announced
At least 20 breaches of Covid regulations took place in Downing Street and Whitehall, the Metropolitan Police has confirmed.
However, the Prime Minister does not believe he misled parliament in December when he gave a statement on the matter, a Number 10 spokesperson has confirmed.
The London force has been investigating a clutch of allegations involving government figures in what has become known as the partygate scandal.
Revelations that a series of parties may have been held across the parliamentary estate while the UK locked down provoked public outcry so strong that Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued an apology from the dispatch box in January.
That came one month after he assured MPs that "all guidance was followed completely" in Downing Street throughout the pandemic.
Now the Met has announced that at least 20 breaches have been confirmed.
In a statement released this morning, it said some details would be withheld from the public to avoid "identification of the individuals".
And it said that "the first referrals for fixed penalty notices" may be followed up with others.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister has said that he has not recieved notification of a referral so far.
The force said: "We will today initially begin to refer 20 fixed penalty notices to be issued for breaches of Covid-19 regulations. The ACRO Criminal Records Office will then be responsible for issuing the FPNs to the individual following the referrals from the MPS [Metropolitan Police Service].
"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.
"As it has for all fixed penalty notices issued during the pandemic, the MPS will follow the College of Policing Approved Professional Practice for Media Relations which states that '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."
It was thought that at least 15 fixed penalty notices would be issued this week.
Police have been investigating 12 events held across government in a probe dubbed Operation Hillman.
A separate investigation carried out by senior civil servant Sue Gray slammed "failures of leadership and judgement" over 16 social events that ran from May 2020 to April 2021.
These include one on the eve of Prince Philip's funeral.
Her initial findings have been published and Johnson, who withstood calls to resign over the row, has said that an updated version would be released in full following the police report.
A Downing Street spokesperson has confirmed that, despite today's developments, Johnson will not now issue an apology for his dispatch box denial in December. The spokesperson said: "He hasn't apologised to the house for misleading it because he doesn’t believe that he misled the house.
"At all times he set out his understanding of events."
However, political rivals have now issued fresh calls for Johnson to resign, with Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said "the buck stops" with him. She stated: "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."
Ed Davey of the Lib Dems said that "if Boris Johnson thinks he can get away with partygate by paying expensive lawyers and throwing junior staff to the wolves, he is wrong", adding: "The prime minister must resign, or Conservative MPs must sack him."
Meanwhile, the SNP’s deputy Westminster leader, Kirsten Oswald, said: "While the public were following the rules imposed upon us all and making difficult sacrifices to protect each other, Boris Johnson and his Tory colleagues were breaking them without a care.
"The public will rightly want answers and accountability, and it is vital that there is transparency in this ongoing investigation and that must involve full disclosure of precisely who, among ministers and senior civil servants, is being fined for breaking the law.
"Boris Johnson should have resigned a long time ago over the boozy rule-breaking parties, but his ego and lack of dignity led him to desperately cling on. The reality is that the longer he stays in office the more lasting the damage will be."
At a meeting of the cabinet this morning no discussion of partygate or fixed penalty notices issued by the Met took place.
A No 10 spokesperson confirmed the public will "hear more from the Prime Minister" once the Met concludes its partygate investigation, and the final version of Gray's report into lockdown breaches is complete.
"It is not concluded so it would be inappropriate to comment," the spokesperson said.
Former health secretary Matt Hancock, who lost his post after being caught breaching Covid rules in an office clinch with a team member, told the BBC that Johnson should not resign even if he himself is issued a fixed penalty notice. This is because he "got the big calls right" on the pandemic and needed to lead the UK response to Russia's attack on Ukraine, Hancock said.
However, there is pressure for action tonight from some parts of the Conservative party. One senior Tory MP who backed Johnson in the 2019 leadership election said those given fixed penalty notices should resign and that failure to sack those who refuse would be a "massive failure of leadership on his part". Getting an official penalty for "breaking Covid rules that they effectively set should be a resignation matter for the special advisers or senior civil servants concerned", they said.
Read more at PoliticsHome.
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