Humiliated UK PM apologizes after fined for lockdown birthday party

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  • Johnson says he didn’t realize the 10-minute event broke the rules
  • The gathering was to mark his anniversary
  • Wife and finance minister Rishi Sunak also fined
  • Opponents call on Johnson and Sunak to step down

LONDON, April 12 (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized but defied calls to resign on Tuesday after he was fined for breaking coronavirus lockdown rules by attending a rally at his office to celebrate his birthday.

Johnson said people have a right to expect better after he, his wife and finance minister Rishi Sunak were fined for breaking laws his government introduced to curb COVID-19 .

“It didn’t occur to me, as I said, that I was breaking the rules. I now humbly accept that I was,” Johnson said. “I think the best thing I can do now is, after I’ve settled the fine, to focus on the job and that’s what I’m going to do.”

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Police investigated 12 gatherings at Johnson’s Downing Street office and the Cabinet Office after a damning internal investigation found his staff enjoyed unauthorized parties fueled with alcohol. Read more

Johnson said he attended some of the events, held when social mixing was all but banned, but he always denied knowingly committing wrongdoing.

Sunak issued an “unreserved apology” for breaking the rules at the same anniversary meeting, adding that he respected the ruling and paid the fine.

“I deeply regret the frustration and anger caused and I’m sorry,” he said in a statement.

Tuesday’s fines, three of more than 50 police officers said they would issue, linked to a Downing Street rally to mark Johnson’s 56th birthday on June 19, 2020, an event which Johnson says did not last more than 10 minutes.

“I understand the anger that many will feel that I myself failed to abide by the very rules that the government I lead had introduced to protect the public,” he said in a television interview from his residence in Checkers campaign.

It is believed to be the first time a British leader has broken the law while in office.

Johnson came to power in 2019 on a promise to complete Britain’s exit from the European Union, but his post as prime minister has suffered a series of controversies and missteps in recent months.

The revelations about the Downing Street drunken parties prompted calls for the resignation of lawmakers from his own Conservative Party earlier this year. However, this pressure eased with the war in Ukraine in which he sought to play a leading role in the West’s response.

INITIAL REJECTS

Some of the gatherings took place when people could not attend funerals or say goodbye to loved ones who died in hospital.

After the events were first reported in late 2021, Johnson said there were no parties and all rules were being followed. Read more

He later apologized to Parliament for attending an event, which he thought was work-related. He also apologized to Queen Elizabeth for another party in which staff celebrated on the eve of her husband’s funeral.

In June 2020, when Johnson’s birthday party took place, people from different households were not allowed to meet indoors and were asked to maintain a distance of two meters from each other.

The COVID-19 group Bereaved Families for Justice UK said it was “still incredibly painful” that Johnson broke his own rules when they couldn’t be with dying loved ones.

Opposition Labor leader Keir Starmer said Johnson and Sunak had dishonored the sacrifices people had made during the pandemic as well as their own state offices.

“This is the first time in the history of our country that a prime minister has been found guilty of breaking the law and then repeatedly lied to the public about it,” Starmer said.

“Britain deserves better, they have to go.”

THE MAJORITY THINK HE SHOULD STOP

A snap poll for YouGov found 57% of voters thought he should quit and 75% thought he had knowingly lied. In another Savanta ComRes survey, 61% said he should quit.

The prime minister’s immediate future will be determined by Tory lawmakers, who can trigger a leadership challenge if 54 of the party’s 360 lawmakers demand a vote of confidence. Read more

Some of those who have already called for his leadership have said now is not the time.

“In the midst of war in Europe, when Vladimir Putin is committing war crimes and the UK is Ukraine’s greatest ally, as President (Volodymyr) Zelenskiy said over the weekend, he cannot would not be fair to impeach the Prime Minister at this time,” said Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservative Party.

Others warned that Johnson’s long-term position was still far from secure. “This is not the end of this case,” said Conservative lawmaker Andrew Bridgen.

In Johnson’s favor is the lack of an obvious candidate to replace him. The fines cap a terrible week for Sunak who was seen as one of the main contenders.

The Chancellor was already facing serious questions about his family’s finances and wealth, at a time when major tax hikes took effect, and he was criticized for not doing enough to help Britons to go through the biggest cost-of-living squeeze since records began. in 1956.

His wife Akshata Murty, who owns around 0.9% of Indian IT giant Infosys (INFY.NS), confirmed she has non-domiciled tax status, meaning she does not pay tax on income from outside Great Britain. She said on Friday she would pay UK tax on overseas income after days of criticism.

He also must have wondered why he only gave up a US “green card” – an immigration status for permanent US residents – after becoming finance minister in 2020.

Sunak said he, like Johnson, was “focused on delivering for the British people at this difficult time”.

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Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper, Alistair Smout, William Schomberg and Paul Sandle; Written by Michael Holden; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Alex Richardson, Gareth Jones, Mike Harrison and Bernard Orr

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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