Boris Johnson has been groomed to potentially face new fines for breaking coronavirus laws after a justice minister resigned for “repeated breaches of the rules” at Downing Street. His Tory counterpart David Wolfson said he had “no choice” but to resign as the scale and nature of the events determined by police to be violations so far are “inconsistent with the state by right”.
Several newspapers have published stories suggesting the Prime Minister could receive further fixed penalty notices after accepting a fine for attending a birthday party held for him at No 10 during Covid restrictions in June 2020. Downing Street sources said they were awaiting the outcome of Scotland’s ongoing triage inquiry after Mr Johnson admitted further fines could follow, having apparently attended six of the 12 events subject to of an investigation.
The prime minister will try to get out of the scandal with a major speech on Thursday outlining new plans for the asylum system, including sending individuals over 4,000 miles to Rwanda for processing. The fallout after Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak admitted paying fines this week continued with renewed calls to quit.
Tory MPs Nigel Mills and Craig Whittaker said the Prime Minister’s position was untenable after he was found guilty of breaking the rules he set. However, Mr Johnson’s position was secure for the time being, with politicians absent from Parliament for the Easter recess and many Tory critics arguing for an immediate focus on invading Ukraine.
Lord Wolfson, Justice Secretary since 2020, said in his resignation letter to Mr Johnson that he had come to the ‘inevitable conclusion that there had been repeated breaches of the rules and breaches of the criminal law at Downing Street”. He concluded he had no choice but to resign given “my ministerial and professional obligations to support and uphold the rule of law”.
The ruling put pressure on Dominic Raab, whose Labor shadow Steve Reed pointed out that the Justice Secretary is ‘constitutionally responsible for upholding the law, but rather condones the breaking of the law’ in backing Mr Johnson . Mr Raab described Lord Wolfson as a ‘world-class lawyer’ whose ‘wisdom and intellect will be sorely missed’ in government.
Mr Johnson wrote Au Pair saying he was ‘sorry to receive’ the resignation, while praising his ‘years of legal experience’. Earlier, Mr Mills became the first Tory backbench MP to publicly call on Mr Johnson to fall to his sword since the fines were imposed.
The MP for Amber Valley, Derbyshire, told the Palestinian Authority News Agency that Mr Johnson’s position was untenable, saying: ‘Yes, I think a sitting Prime Minister will receive a fine, accept it and pay it for breaking the laws he introduces… is just an impossible position. Mr Whittaker, MP for the West Yorkshire constituency of Calder Valley, called on the Prime Minister and Mr Sunak to resign in response to questions from voters.
“To be very clear, my personal opinion is that he and the chancellor should step down because you can’t make the laws and then break them like they did,” he said in a Facebook video. But Mr Whittaker said he would not submit a letter to the 1922 backbench Tory committee, saying he expected the Prime Minister to win the vote which he said would hijack the attention to Ukraine and the cost of living crisis.
Welsh Secretary Simon Hart has indicated the Prime Minister will not step down even if he is repeatedly fined as part of the investigation into the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Hillman. Mr Hart told Times Radio: ‘I don’t necessarily see the difference between one or two (fines), for example, the principle is the same.
“I personally don’t think that for people in public life – or any other background, for that matter – it should necessarily be accompanied by another sanction, which is removal from your job or similar.” Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak – along with the Prime Minister’s wife Carrie, who was also fined for the Cabinet Room party – apologized on Tuesday and confirmed they had paid the fines.
Several Tory MPs and Cabinet ministers expressed their support for the prime minister, stressing his support for Ukraine in response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion. Home Secretary Priti Patel has been publicly silent about the scandal, but a Home Office source said Mr Johnson had her “full support”.
It has been argued that it is difficult for Home Office ministers to comment on ongoing police investigations. More than 50 fines have been referred to Acro’s criminal records office since the Met’s investigation began.
Speaking to broadcasters at his country residence, Checkers, on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said it ‘didn’t occur to him’ at the time that the party for which he was fined might break covid rules. Mr Sunak issued an “unreserved apology”, saying he understood that “for figures in public office, the rules must be strictly enforced in order to maintain public trust”.
A spokesperson for Ms Johnson said: ‘While she believed she was acting within the rules at the time, Ms Johnson accepts the findings of the Metropolitan Police and apologizes unreservedly.’
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