UK police issue 20 fines over ‘partygate’ virus scandal
LONDON (AP) — British police have issued 20 fines over illegal parties held by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his staff during coronavirus lockdowns — though the recipients don’t yet include Johnson, whose hold on power has been threatened by the illicit gatherings.
The Metropolitan Police force said Tuesday it wouldn’t identify the recipients of the fixed penalty notices, but Johnson’s office said it would reveal if he gets one. It wasn’t clear whether 20 people received fines or whether some individuals got more than one.
Opponents, and some members of the governing Conservative Party, have said that Johnson should resign if he is issued a fine for breaking rules he imposed on the rest of the country during the pandemic.
The “partygate” scandal had left Johnson’s tenure on a knife-edge before Russia launched a war in Ukraine more than a month ago that gave Britain’s politicians more urgent priorities and pushed the scandal from the headlines.
But the police have continued their investigation of dozens of politicians and officials over allegations that the government flouted its own pandemic restrictions. Officers sent questionnaires to more than 100 people, including the prime minister, and interviewed witnesses as part of the investigation.
Confirming that it had authorized 20 fines, the police force said officers were working through a “significant amount of investigative material” and more people could face penalties later.
Johnson’s government was shaken by public anger over revelations that his staff held “bring your own booze” office parties, birthday celebrations and “wine time Fridays” in 2020 and 2021 while millions in Britain were barred from meeting with friends and family because of his government’s COVID-19 restrictions. Thousands of people were fined between 60 pounds ($79) and 10,000 pounds ($13,200) by police for rule-breaking social gatherings.
Johnson has denied any wrongdoing, but he is alleged to have been at several of the dozen events in his 10 Downing St. office and other government buildings that are being investigated by the police. He has acknowledged attending a “bring your own booze” party in the Downing Street garden in May 2020 during the first lockdown, but insisted he believed it would be a work event.
In January, civil servant Sue Gray published a report into some of the gatherings, the ones not under criminal investigation. She said “failures of leadership and judgment” in Johnson’s government allowed events to occur that should not have happened.
Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, said the party revelations were “a slap in the face” to millions who had followed the national coronavirus restrictions.
“The culture is set from the very top,” she said. “The buck stops with the prime minister, who spent months lying to the British public, which is why he has got to go.”
Hannah Brady, a spokeswoman for the group COVID-1919 Bereaved Families for Justice, said Johnson “should have resigned months ago over this.”
“By dragging it out longer, all he is doing is pouring more salt on the wounds of those who have already suffered so much,” she said.
Johnson spokesman Max Blain declined to say whether the prime minister would quit if he is fined.
“It’s a hypothetical situation,” he said.
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