Boris Johnson promises to 'set record straight' on Partygate fine in parliament ...
Independent TV

A Tory minister appeared to avoid a simple question surrounding Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak's Partygate behaviour four times.

During Firday's episode of BBC's Any Questions, presenter Chris Mason, who is to become the BBC's next political editor, handed the microphone to a member of the audience who had a simple question that required a yes or no answer after Johnson and Sunak were both slapped with a £50 fine for attending an event in Downing Street in June 2020 for around nine minutes on the prime minister's birthday.

People weren't allowed to mix with people from other households at the time due to coronavirus restrictions.

The woman, Naz, asked the political panel: "Have the chancellor and the PM behaved ethically regarding Partygate?"

Mason asked whether she had a "particular reason" behind her question, to which she responded: "Yes, my mother died of Covid."

He then quizzed how she would respond to her question, to which she said: "I think you won't be surprised to hear that I don't think they have."

The host then handed it over to government minister Gillian Keegan, who expressed her sympathies for Naz and said she understood "the anger and the pain that people feel."

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Keegan then launched into a lengthy response – that completely sidelined the original question.

"I see this in my ministerial role, part of the role that I've got is health ministries and responsibility for bereavement and for end of life as well," she said.

"And I see lots of groups of people who lost loved ones during Covid and they're devastated by grief, their guilt at not being able to say goodbye. I had my own uncle, who I also couldn't go and see up in Liverpool.

"Not being able to go through the normal stages of the bereaving process with friends and family and people sacrificed a lot. Every time I sit and listen to people, I think actually, there was too much sacrifice in some cases.

Mason intercepted her speech and wittingly added it's because people were actually sticking to the rules – unlike those involved in the Partygate scandal.

Keegan continued her ramblings and said Johnson and Sunak had apologised, which prompted the host to remind the minister of Naz's question: did the chancellor and the PM behave ethically?

Once again, she avoided it.

"It's clear that the judgement that they made... Erm, and the PM and the chancellor about whether they were breaking the rules or not," she said.

"It's clear they're very senior and very experienced civil servants, including the former head of ethics, made the same judgement at the time."

Her avoidance of the question prompted the audience to start booing the MP – but Keegan kept going.

"Many people did have the same judgement. And that judgement has now been proven to be wrong. The police have said that judgement was wrong. They weren't the only ones who had that judgement," she said. "It's right they apologised and paid their fixed penalty notices as well."

"I know that some people won't agree, but I do believe the context and bigger picture is what we do not absolutely want to risk stabilising where we are right now – either with Ukraine or in our own country."

The audience started to boo the MP once more, to which she said: "You may have a different view."

Just as it couldn't get any more awkward, Mason tried to get a simple answer a final time. "I suppose there's a yes or no to that in the end," he added.

Instead, she responded: "They would say yes."

"They would say yes because they've paid the fixed penalty notice. There were about 105,000 fixed penalty notices issued over the covid period."

Johnson vows to "set the record straight" during next week's PMQs.

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