However, the scandal is far from over.
Johnson is the first incumbent British prime minister to be found to have broken the law. His critics already on Tuesday urged him to resign. Ultimately, his political future may depend more on the assessment of Parliament than the assessment of the police.
The Prime Minister was fined for breaking rules authorized by his own government by attending a rally of “two or more people indoors” in the Downing Street cabinet room on June 19, 2020.
It was a birthday party – attended by about 30 people with song and cake – reportedly hosted by the Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, as a surprise to her husband.
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Carrie Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak were also among those quoted by police on Tuesday as part of the criminal investigation into a dozen government parties during the pandemic.
In a prepared statement to the TV stations early in the evening, Johnson said he paid his fine and “I offer once again a full apology.”
According to his account, he attended a day that was otherwise packed with covid meetings and a school visit, “a short gathering… of less than 10 minutes, where the people I work with kindly passed on their good wishes.”
“I have to honestly say at the time that it did not occur to me that this could have been a breach of the rules,” he said. “But of course the police have found something else and I fully respect the result of their investigation.”
The Prime Minister added: “I understand the anger that many will feel that I myself fell short when it came to complying with the same rules that the government I lead had introduced to protect the public, and I accept in all sincerity that people had a right to expect better. “
Carrie Johnson and Sunak said they also paid their fines.
Carrie Johnson’s spokeswoman said that while the prime minister’s wife believed she “acted in accordance with the rules at the time, Mrs. Johnson accepts the results of the Metropolitan Police and apologizes unreservedly.”
Sunak said in a statement: “I understand that for people in public office, the rules must be applied strictly to maintain public confidence.”
London’s Metropolitan Police said on Tuesday they had now issued 50 fines in their investigation of lockdown bashes in the presence of government employees at the prime minister’s office and residence and the nearby cabinet office.
Police have not named who else has been fined, what parties they attended, or even though the 50 fines have gone to 50 different people. But as the investigation is underway, more fines for multiple attendees for multiple gatherings are possible – including for Johnson.
Police are investigating 12 assemblies, including those involving quiz games, wine and cheese parties, “BYOB” invitations – and alcohol brought in with wheeled luggage.
Those who are to be fined will first be sent a “fixed fine notice”. They can then simply pay the amount believed to be £ 100 ($ 130) – half if paid immediately. Or they have 28 days to contest the sanctions, in which case the case could include more police investigation – and even a trip to a courtroom.
While the fines may be small, the political costs to Johnson and his government can be significant.
Now Johnson is associated with criminal behavior. Having a birthday cake with colleagues can be a relatively minor offense as criminal activities take place. But both the investigations and the public outrage have focused on the context: The parties took place when strict pandemic restrictions were in effect, as families were denied visits to loved ones in hospitals, and the number of attendees at funerals was limited.
Johnson’s critics will hammer away that the prime minister is a hypocrite, a liar, even a liar who can not be trusted.
Nicola Sturgeon, head of Scotland, said on Tuesday that both Johnson and Sunak should resign. So did Keir Starmer, leader of the Labor opposition party, who said “it’s obvious there was widespread crime” on 10 Downing Street, where Johnson lives and works.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, called on Parliament to return to the meeting to discuss a no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister.
Johnson’s supporters have said it’s time to move on so Johnson and his government can devote their full attention to the war in Ukraine, soaring energy prices and post-Brexit trade deals.
In the hours after the fines were announced on Tuesday, the prime minister’s press office highlighted Johnson’s role as war leader and offered journalists a reading of a call with President Biden. Johnson tweeted one picture by himself with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev over the weekend.
But support for the prime minister could now wane in his party if his Tory colleagues feel he has made fun of them.
Johnson’s fate lies in the hands of colleagues from the Conservative Party, who could trigger a leadership challenge if 54 Conservative MPs submit letters of no confidence.
Steven Fielding, a political historian at the University of Nottingham, said Johnson being punished for breaking the law was “shocking but not shocking.”
“In the big picture, it’s a big shock and a scandal that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has turned out to have broken his own laws and lied about it.”
On the other hand, Fielding said, “we knew before Boris Johnson became prime minister that he was lying, he was telling misdeeds to people to get where he wanted to be. It’s been a long time coming and we expected it.”
Johnson has long had a loose relationship with the truth. He was fired from a job as a journalist at the Times of London for making a quote. He also once lost a post in the leadership of the Conservative party after admitting he lied about a romantic affair.
Do you want to understand Boris Johnson? Read his ardent journalism.
In this case, analysts said attention would turn to the question of whether Johnson violated the “Ministerial Code” or Code of Conduct, which British politicians are supposed to follow, by deliberately misleading Parliament, saying the “guidelines and rules” around parties on Downing Street “was followed at all times.”
If he broke the code, then by convention he should resign.
The person responsible for enforcing this code is the British Prime Minister.
In late 2020, Johnson’s Home Secretary, Priti Patel, was found to have broken the code following an investigation into allegations of bullying. Johnson did not do further and she is still in the role.
Some commentators have questioned whether, given the war in Ukraine, now is the right time for Britain to change its leaders. Others point out that Britain changed prime ministers during World War I and II.
When the Partygate scandal first broke out and calls went out to Johnson to resign, many conservatives speculated that Sunak could be a good replacement.
Sunak acts as finance minister with responsibility for the country’s finances and budgets. It’s one of the “big government offices”. And Sunak has been widely popular.
But even before the news of the fines, his political hopes had been shattered.
The British press revealed last week that his wife, Akshata Murty, had not paid British tax on her overseas earnings.
Murty is a billionaire who owns millions of shares in Indian technology giant Infosys, which was founded by her father. Murty claimed “non-domicile” status in UK tax applications even though she lives with her husband in the UK. Her tax position is one that many dual nationals use. It’s legal, but the optics are awful.
Until the moving cars arrived over the weekend, Murty, Sunak and their family all lived in the city Chancellor’s residence in Downing Street.