More partygate ends in Downing Street as Boris Johnson clings on

According to reports, fine notices have started landing in the email inboxes of officials who attended a “bring your own bottle” drinks do in the Downing Street garden on May 20 2020 during the first Covid lockdown.

The Metropolitan Police said they would not be giving an update on fixed-penalty notices (FPNs) before the local elections next month but a Downing Street source said Mr Johnson had not received a fine in relation to the gathering.

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Mr Johnson has previously apologized for attending the party for around 25 minutes, but has insisted he believed it to be a work event to thank staff for their efforts during the pandemic and therefore not a breach of social distancing rules.

Boris Johnson has not yet received another partygate fine

It comes as a Conservative peer and polling expert said a confidence vote in Mr Johnson’s leadership has become inevitable as the prospect of further lockdown party ends hangs over the Prime Minister.

There have been growing calls from the Conservative benches for Mr Johnson to resign, having already been issued with one fine by Scotland Yard in relation to his own birthday bash in June 2020.

He is said to have been present at half of the 12 possible rule-breaking incidents being looked into by police.

Former MP Lord Hayward said that it is “a matter of when, not if” the Prime Minister faces a no confidence vote from his own MPs as pressure continues to mount.

The PM will be subject to a third investigation over partygate after MPs on Thursday agreed to refer him for an investigation by the Commons Privileges Committee into whether he misled Parliament when denying Covid rules were broken in No 10.

There has already been a review by senior civil servant Sue Gray into the allegations of coronavirus law breaches at the heart of Government and the police’s Operation Hillman inquiry is continuing.

Lord Hayward said the result of the three probes would amount to “death by a thousand cuts”.

“What clearly the Conservative Party, not just the MPs but particularly the MPs, are seeing is they don’t want that and they are moving more towards a position where this matter has to be resolved,” he said.

“I expect there to be a challenge to his leadership in one form or another.”

Duncan Baker, Tory MP for North Norfolk, said he had not considered the birthday party FPN to be a resignation matter but indicated that more fines could change that view.

He said: “If there are multiple fixed-penalty notices, clearly that is going to make much, much greater pressure.”

But defense minister Leo Docherty said partygate was “done and dusted” given Mr Johnson had apologized after receiving an FPN earlier this month.

It comes after a row broke out between the PM’s allies and critics over his future.

Senior backbencher Tobias Ellwood said during broadcast interviews that there had been “a huge breach of trust” with the British people as he called on Tory colleagues to force a change of leader.

But that drew a furious accusation of disloyalty from Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns who said there was “no question” of the Prime Minister stepping down.

The row overshadowed Mr Johnson’s much-trumpeted visit to India for trade talks with premier Narendra Modi.

At a closing press conference in New Delhi, Mr Johnson largely sidestepped questions about the issue, although he insisted he will still be in office by Diwali in October, which he has set as the target date for a trade deal with India.

The Metropolitan Police announced on Thursday that it will not provide further updates on partygate fines until after May’s local elections, a comment the force reiterated when asked on Friday about whether fines had been issued in relation to the BYOB party.

Downing Street, however, has stated it will still declare whether the Prime Minister receives further fines in the lead up to polling day on May 5.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said “time is running out” for the Prime Minister with the forthcoming investigation by the Privileges Committee a pivotal moment in his premiership.

She said: “I think time is running out for him. It feels to me that the events of yesterday turned things into a question of when and not if.”

A chaotic day at Westminster on Thursday saw ministers forced to abandon plans to try to delay a vote on the inquiry in the face of a threatened Tory revolt. Instead, MPs went through an opposition motion referring Mr Johnson to the committee.

Mr Johnson reportedly personally intervened to drop a Government amendment after six junior ministers threatened to resign.

The Privileges Committee will not begin its probe until after the Metropolitan Police has completed its investigation into breaches of Covid regulations in Whitehall.

But Ms Sturgeon said: “The fact that the Tories had to U-turn at the last minute in terms of their instruction to their own MPs, I think, is very telling and is a sign that support appears at long last – and it’s overdue – to be ebbing away from the Prime Minister within his own ranks.”

The Prime Minister has already received one fine – as has his wife Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak – over a birthday gathering in No 10 and there are fears more could follow. The motion passed by the Commons on Thursday said Mr Johnson made statements that “appear to amount to misleading the House” when giving past assurances Downing Street complied with coronavirus laws. The committee will consider whether he is in contempt of Parliament for intentionally misleading the Commons – a breach of the ministerial code traditionally considered a resignation issue.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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