London: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned to the UK on Saturday after a two-day visit to India amidst reports of more fines being issued by Scotland Yard for lockdown-breaching parties at 10 Downing Street here.
The Metropolitan Police have been investigating the partygate scandal, which is a looming threat to Johnson’s leadership that followed him all the way to Ahmedabad and Delhi this week as the House of Commons voted in favour of an investigation into whether he knowingly misled Parliament over the issue.
During his final press conference in Delhi on Friday, Johnson, 57, declined to be drawn on the issue of partygate and insisted he was focused on getting on with the job by strengthening ties with a friendly democracy.
“What we’re talking about today, is the ways in which the situation, not just in Ukraine, the situation around the world is obliging the UK and India to do more together,” Johnson told UK reporters in response to their flurry of partygate questions.
“I think that what people want in our country is for the government to get on and focus on the issues on which we were elected, and that’s what we’re going to do,” he said.
The British Prime Minister has been issued with one fixed penalty notice of a fine over his birthday party in the Cabinet Room of Downing Street in June 2020, which he paid up immediately.
Now, ITV News has quoted sources as saying that UK government officials have started receiving fines for another “bring your own booze” event in the garden of Number 10 Downing Street, which Johnson is known to have attended during lockdown.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said he has not received a second fine as of now and the public is unlikely to find out whether he does until after local elections coming up on May 5.
”While the investigation will continue during the pre-election period due to the restrictions around communicating before the May local elections, we will not provide further updates until after May 5,” the Met Police said in a statement.
If Johnson does receive another fine, it will be double his first one that was worth 100 pounds (USD 128) but reduced to 50 pounds (USD 64) because he paid it within 14 days.
The coronavirus lockdown rules meant people who repeatedly breached the rules against gatherings would have their fines doubled with each subsequent offence, up to a maximum of 6,400 pounds (USD 8,217).
ITV News claimed its sources had confirmed that some officials who attended the May 2020 ”bring your own booze” Downing Street garden party have received police fines.
An email invite seen by the UK television news channel confirmed the garden party took place, with the invite reportedly sent by the Prime Minister’s former Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds to over a hundred employees at Downing Street.
In January this year when the reports first emerged, Johnson confirmed he had joined the event for about 25 minutes, saying that the No. 10 Downing Street garden was being used as “an extension of the office”.
“With hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside,” he said while arguing that the event “could be said, technically, to fall within the guidance”.
While the Opposition Labour Party prepares for the Commons Privileges Committee probe into whether Johnson misled Parliament, there is growing disquiet on the backbenches of the Prime Minister’s own Conservative Party over the scandal.
Many Tory MPs have started speaking out over the issue but with the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, there isn’t a strong appetite for a full-blown rebellion.
However, the local council and mayoral election results on May 5 could embolden them to act if the Tories fare badly at the ballot box.