British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has paid a fine for attending his birthday bash in Downing Street and offered a “full apology” for the lockdown-busting event.
Mr Johnson said it “didn’t occur” to him that the gathering in the Cabinet Room on June 19, 2020, to mark his 56th birthday was a violation of coronavirus rules.
However, he said that after being issued with a fine as part of a Metropolitan Police investigation into alleged parties at the heart of the government during the pandemic he “now humbly accepts” he did breach COVID-19 laws.
Speaking at Chequers, the British PM’s official country residence, Mr Johnson said he “fully respects” the outcome of the police investigation and that he accepted “in all sincerity that people had the right to expect better” from him.
Outlining the busy nature of the day the fine related to, Mr Johnson said he chaired eight meetings at No.10 and followed them up with a four-hour round trip to a school in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire.
“There was a brief gathering in the Cabinet Room shortly after 2pm lasting for less than 10 minutes, during which people I work with kindly passed on their good wishes,” he said.
“I have to say, in all frankness, at that time it did not occur to me that this might have been a breach of the rules.”
He added: “I now humbly accept that I was.
“But I think the best thing I can do now is, having settled the fine, is focus on the job in hand. That’s what I’m going to do.”
Asked if he thought more fines were coming his way, Mr Johnson said the media would be among the first to know.
Mr Johnson’s wife, Carrie Johnson, and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak were also among dozens fined by the Metropolitan Police over so-called “partygate”.
The government has been shaken by public anger over revelations that Mr Johnson’s 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 friends and family because of his government’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Opponents, and some members of the governing Conservative Party, have said for months that Mr Johnson should resign if he is issued a fine for breaking the rules he imposed on the rest of the country during the pandemic.
“Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have broken the law and repeatedly lied to the British public,” said Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party.
“The Conservatives are totally unfit to govern. Britain deserves better.”
The COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group said “there is simply no way” that Mr Johnson or Mr Sunak could remain in their jobs.
“Their dishonesty has caused untold hurt to the bereaved,” the group’s spokesman, Lobby Akinnola, said.
“Not only that, but they have lost all credibility with the wider public.”
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon joined calls for Mr Johnson’s resignation, saying: “The basic values of integrity and decency – essential to the proper working of any parliamentary democracy – demand that he go.”