I absolutely understand and sympathise with your fury and disappointment that the PM and Mrs Johnson and the Chancellor of the Exchequer as well as a number of civil servants have now been issued with Fixed Penalty Notices because of their attendance at a surprise birthday party in the Cabinet Room. Those who make the rules are more than duty bound to obey them; and it is infuriating that at a time when many people were enduring heart-rending separations because of the rules, people in No 10 were apparently ignoring them. It is also a matter of grave concern that the PM is the first in his office to have broken the law, albeit inadvertently. So I do understand and have every sympathy with so many constituents’ concerns and anger.
However, the PM has offered a humble apology and paid the £50 fine on a Fixed Penalty Notice for this offence from which there is no criminal record. The offence was a small surprise party in what is, after all, his private house as well as a working environment. Are we really saying that at that time no-one should have met up with their family for a brief birthday party in their own house? Rishi Sunak had not been invited and just got caught up in it when he arrived for another meeting.
We must await the outcome of the Met Police investigation into any other offences as well as Sue Gray’s final report into it before we rush to judgement.
A separate but allied matter is whether or not the PM knowingly misled Parliament. Thanks to today’s Labour Party motion, which we are not opposing, that consideration will now be passed to the House of Commons Committee of Privilege after the investigations have been completed, and Sue Gray’s report published. That Committee will consider whether or not the PM (or others) committed any offence under Parliamentary rules and procedures. If there are further FPNs or other revelations in the days to come, or if Sue Gray’s report changes that view, then we will all reserve the right to change my stance on the matter.
In peacetime the delivery of this solitary FPN might have led to calls for the PM’s resignation. But it would be a disaster for the Ukraine war if it happened right now. For example: supposing Putin were to use chemical weapons or worse in the forthcoming Donbass campaign, it would be absolutely essential that we should have a strong, resolute and experienced PM ready to act decisively. A lame duck PM in the midst of a three-month leadership battle would be unlikely to respond in that way. We need strength and determination against Putin, not weakness and vacillation which would be the consequence of any kind of precipitate resignation. The rest of the World would simply not understand our further destabilising the situation by engaging in a leadership battle over the issue of whether or not Boris Johnson attended a birthday party in his own house. Nor could we contemplate a General Election and the political turmoil which it would bring.
So I accept the Labour Party’s motion that requires the Privileges Committee to consider whether any further action needs to be taken, and that they will start their enquiry when they are in receipt of the Met Police’s charges (if any) and Sue Gray’s final report. That seems to me to be a pretty reasonable request, and I will therefore be making no further comment on Partygate until that time.