UK: Boris Johnson apologizes in Parliament for ‘Partygate’ fine

The British prime minister insisted he did not knowingly breach pandemic lockdown rules. He is the first modern UK leader to receive a fine for breaking the law.

Boris Johnson in the House of CommonsThe prime minister is facing possible further fines for other parties held during lockdown

Boris Johnson faced lawmakers in the UK Parliament on Tuesday for the first time since police fined him over illegal parties held during coronavirus lockdowns.

The members of the House of Commons were on an 11-day Easter break last week when the prime minister was handed a fine for attending a birthday party that was in violation of lockdown rules.

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His chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, was also fined. There have been calls for both men to step down.

Johnson has defied the calls, some of which have come from his own Conservative Party, even after becoming the first modern UK leader to be charged for breaking the law.

But he is now facing possible further penalties for other lockdown parties, as well as the accusation that he misled the Parliament by insisting that he had broken no rules. This could amount to a breach of government ministers’ code of conduct for which ministers are expected to step down.

Demonstrators hold anti-Boris Johnson placards during protest outside UK ParliamentJohnson has repeatedly defied calls to step down over the scandal

What did Johnson say?

Johnson insisted he was not aware he was breaking the rules.

“I take this opportunity on the first available sitting day to repeat my wholehearted apology to the House [of Commons]. As soon as I received the notice, I acknowledged the hurt and the anger, and I said that people had a right to expect better of their Prime Minister,” Johnson told lawmakers.

“It did not occur to me then, or subsequently, that a gathering in the Cabinet Room just before a vital meeting on COVID strategy could amount to a breach of the rules. I repeat that was my mistake, and I apologize for it, unreservedly,” he said.

Why is the prime minister in hot water?

Johnson has previously survived the political storms created by the “Partygate” scandal.

Despite holding a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, members of his own party started expressing particularly rebellious sentiments after the prime minister was accused of having been partying while millions were locked inside their homes.

Public anger put pressure on lawmakers, especially those in more marginal seats, to confront what many have seen as hypocrisy.

Johnson already paid off his £50 (€60, $65) fine, but London’s Metropolitan police are still investigating dozens of other alleged lockdown breaches.

Support for Johnson remains low

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis have helped shift attention away from the “Partygate” scandal, and proposals to send migrants and asylum-seekers to Rwanda have been seen as a gesture to his pro-Brexit base of support.

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UK ‘partygate’ report released

Though attention may be focused elsewhere, anger toward the prime minister has not dissipated. Around two-thirds of respondents to a national survey cited by the AFP news agency spoke negatively of him.

“Overall, ‘Partygate’ dominates views of Boris over Ukraine,” said James Johnson, a Conservative pollster who conducted the survey. “Fury has not receded. Many negative comments are by people who liked him previously but have now changed their minds.”

The prime minister will be hoping to garner support from his party, but faces the possibility of being referred to a Parliament committee to probe whether he did indeed mislead the house.

ab/fb (AP, AFP)