British police investigating breaches of coronavirus lockdown laws by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his staff in Downing Street have announced 20 initial fines will be issued.
London’s Metropolitan Police said on Tuesday it would not be disclosing the number or identities of those being fined, but Johnson is reportedly not among those hit in the first wave of sanctions.
The news nevertheless risks reviving the so-called “Partygate” scandal that left him fighting for political survival after a number of lawmakers from his ruling Conservatives called for his resignation.
“We will today initially begin to refer 20 fixed penalty notices to be issued for breaches of COVID-19 regulations,” the Met said in a statement, adding that its investigation was continuing.
“We are making every effort to progress this investigation at speed and have completed a number of assessments,” it added. Because there was still a “significant amount” of evidence to be assessed, they did not rule out further action.
The London force is investigating claims that Johnson and his Downing Street officials organised and attended at least a dozen alcohol-fuelled events in 2020 and 2021 that violated Britain’s strict virus curbs at the time.
Johnson has already apologised for the parties, which included Christmas celebrations – and a drink-fuelled gathering the evening before Prince Philip’s funeral.
The prime minister, who initially denied any rule-breaking events had occurred in the complex where he lives and works, has consistently denied any personal wrongdoing.
But the 57-year-old faces a fine unless he can adequately explain why he appeared to attend some social gatherings when his government was telling the public gatherings were illegal.
His office confirmed last month that he had submitted his response to a police questionnaire on the matter, but sources say he has not been interviewed in person by investigating officers.
His spokesman has previously said he will disclose any significant developments in the probe relating to the prime minister.
Hanging by a thread
The “Partygate” revelations and a steady stream of other scandals had left Johnson’s position as prime minister hanging by a thread earlier this year.
The mood among some of his own MPs grew increasingly mutinous and his position was weaker than at any time since he became prime minister in 2019 on a wave of support for his populist Brexit agenda.
His opponents accused him of misleading parliament by insisting the Downing Street events were work-related and within the rules. Normally, ministers found to have misled other lawmakers are expected to resign.
A handful of his own Conservative MPs publicly said they had no confidence in his leadership, and speculation grew that the 54 votes required to force a no-confidence vote to remove him as party leader and prime minister could be reached.
However, the launch of the police investigation in late January bought the embattled Johnson some time.
In recent weeks, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has further eased the political pressure on him with the international crisis replacing Partygate in the daily headlines.
Johnson has tried to play a prominent role in the West’s response, hosting near-daily calls with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and sending the UK military aid to the eastern European country.