Johnson, Sunak fined for breaking Covid lockdown rules

London

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak were told by police they'll be fined for attending rule-breaking gatherings during lockdown, the most damaging development yet in a scandal dubbed "partygate" by the British media.

Britain's two most powerful politicians were informed on Tuesday (Apr 12) by the Metropolitan Police about the intention to fine them, Johnson's office said in a statement. It said it had no further details.

In effect, it means police have decided that Johnson and Sunak broke the rules they set for the public to follow during the pandemic. While ordinary Britons faced severe restrictions on socialising, the premier and his aides, as well as his finance minister, have been found to have partied in government buildings.

Opposition Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer said the fines are a sign the two men had "repeatedly lied to the British public". The question now is whether the fines will reinvigorate calls from within the ruling Conservative Party for Johnson to resign. The slew of allegations brought his premiership to the brink earlier this year.

But Johnson resisted, calling on MPs to hold fire until the police concluded their investigation. Since then, Russia invaded Ukraine and Johnson's personal ratings have started to recover, taking the sting out of "partygate." Some Tories have said an international crisis is not the time for a leadership change.

The force has been investigating since late January a dozen gatherings in government buildings, including one in the garden of Number 10 at which Johnson was photographed, and another in the Cabinet room on his birthday.

Police began issuing fines to officials at the end of March, and earlier on Tuesday, it said it had recommended more than 50 fines be issued. It's possible that some people have received more than one fine.

Johnson's wife, Carrie, will also be issued a fine, her spokeswoman confirmed.

In a preliminary report published in January, senior civil servant Sue Gray slammed "failures of leadership and judgment" at the top of Johnson's administration and criticised a culture of "excessive" drinking.

Her full findings will be disclosed once the police have concluded their probe. The prime minister has repeatedly said he was assured no rules were broken and that he had thought the gathering in the garden, which he acknowledged attending, was a work event.

But the fine is likely to prompt fresh questions from opposition parties over whether Johnson misled the House of Commons. If the mood does change in his party, it would take 54 Conservative MPs, or 15 per cent of the total, to trigger a no-confidence vote in the premier.

Johnson may be helped by a dearth of plausible candidates to succeed him. Sunak had long seemed the premier's most likely successor - but the disclosure that he too will be fined comes with his stock already in freefall amid damaging revelations about his family's financial affairs. Even Tory MPs have criticised him for not doing enough to help Britons struggling with the rising cost of living. BLOOMBERG

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