The full exchange: Keir Starmer grills Boris Johnson over Partygate fines
Funny how opinions change when there’s a very real risk of your political party imploding, as a list of Tory MPs who now back prime minister Boris Johnson over Partygate – despite previously issuing statements about withdrawing support if he was fined or broke the law – have been revealed.
On Tuesday, Mr Johnson addressed the Commons and apologised to MPs – a week after he said sorry to the public.
He said: “I take this opportunity, on the first available sitting day, to repeat my wholehearted apology to the House. As soon as I received the notice, I acknowledged the hurt and the anger, and I said that people had a right to expect better of their Prime Minister, and I repeat that again in the House now.
“Let me also say - not by way of mitigation or excuse, but purely because it explains my previous words in this House - that it did not occur to me, then or subsequently, that a gathering in the Cabinet Room just before a vital meeting on Covid strategy could amount to a breach of the rules.
“I respect the outcome of the police’s investigation, which is still underway. I can only say that I will respect their decision making and always take the appropriate steps.”
He also confirmed again that he had paid the fixed penalty notice, news which he revealed in his statement last week.
And for some Tory MPs, that’s more than fine – pun most definitely intended – despite previously suggesting the opposite.
The Nottinghamshire MP wrote on his Facebook page at the start of the year that he personally “would not back anyone who has knowingly done wrong”.
Yet in a post in April after Mr Johnson received the fine, Mr Anderson said: “I suppose there could be some confusion about gatherings in the workplace but if the Met have issued a fine then it should be paid and an apology issued.
“The PM has done both.”
Ms Caulfield, who represents Lewes in East Sussex, referred to her criticism of former Johnson aide Dominic Cummings in earlier remarks and said: “I will be calling for action against anyone who has been found to have broken the rules.
“It is clear that there was a culture inside Number 10 where even if rules were not technically broken, the spirit of the rules were, and this is completely unacceptable.”
I have been critical of events in Downing Street but as @ChrisPincher says, apologies and changes have been made and we need to let both the PM and the Chancellor get on with their jobs at the most difficult of timeshttps://twitter.com/ChrisPincher/status/1513982374689882118\u00a0\u2026
— Maria Caulfield MP (@Maria Caulfield MP)
Bit awkward, then, that in a tweet posted on Wednesday last week, she decided: “I have been critical of events in Downing Street but … apologies and changes have been made and we need to let both the PM and the chancellor get on with their jobs at the most difficult of times.”
Sir Iain Duncan Smith
Ms Caulfield’s remarks seemed to reference the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, and it was highlighted by former work and pensions secretary Sir Iain Duncan Smith in a tweet on 13th April.
He wrote: “We are all angry, but the prime minister Boris Johnson must stay.
“Britain faces a series of national crises. This is the worst possible time to create a vacuum in Westminster.”
We are all angry, but the Prime Minister @BorisJohnson must stay. Britain faces a series of national crises. This is the worst possible time to create a vacuum in Westminster.https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2022/04/12/angry-prime-minister-must-stay/\u00a0\u2026
— Iain Duncan Smith MP (@Iain Duncan Smith MP)
This is despite the MP previously saying the PM’s position would be “difficult” if the Metropolitan Police fines them over the lockdown parties – which it did.
The Cumbria MP said on 1 February, following the publication of the Sue Gray report, that “if rules and indeed the law have been broken, then quite rightly there should be serious consequences for all those involved, no matter who they are”.
It was a stance he repeated following the prime minister receiving his fine, but added the caveat that “I do not believe it would be prudent or responsible to change the leadership of the government in the midst of … the war in Ukraine”.
He added: “I will therefore be looking to the prime minister to show the statesmanship he has been showing with Ukraine, and outline a timetable and process for an orderly transition to a leadership election as soon as the international situation permits.”
The MP who represents St Ives in Cornwall said in a statement on 11 January “if the alleged activities were illegal and that the PM knew this, or was involved, then I think he should consider his position”.
He repeated this stance this month once Mr Johnson was fined, writing in a new comment: “I have always refused to rush to judgement, as I said back in January – and I stand by what I said. If the alleged activities were illegal AND the PM knew this, he must consider his position.”
Except that isn’t quite what Mr Thomas said, as he mentioned his leader should “consider his position” if the parties were illegal “and that the PM knew this, or was involved”.
Emphasis on that last part, Derek – the Met fining the prime minister suggests he very much was involved.
Then there are the MPs who have come out saying how problematic it would be if Mr Johnson was found to have broken the law, who are – as far as we can tell – staying oddly silent now that that’s actually happened.
Dan Poulter told The Guardian Johnson’s position “would be untenable” if the prime minister was found to have misled parliament or broken the law. The same language was echoed by Ben Spencer MP.
Bedfordshire MP Andrew Sealous said: “I want all of those, however senior, who have broken the law or government guidance to be appropriately punished”.
Meanwhile Kate Griffiths and Robbie Moore, respectively, said “further action” and the “strongest disciplinary action” must be taken if rules were broken.
Finally, in their local press, Miriam Cates said rulebreakers “must face consequences – according to the law – without fear or favour”, while John Lamont claimed they “must be held accountable”.
We would say we’re surprised at the silence and u-turns from Conservative MPs about Partygate, but we’re really not.
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