Boris Johnson is facing three more potential fines for breaches of the blockade, according to senior sources, as he suffered his first ministerial resignation over the Partygate scandal.
As a sign of continuing nervousness in the government that the prime minister’s position could be threatened when lawmakers return to Westminster from a holiday next week, a Downing Street source acknowledged that the apparent lull felt like “calm before a potential storm”.
Lord Justice Minister David Wolfson left the role on Wednesday after news that Johnson and Rishi Sunak had received a fixed notice of punishment for violating their own Covid laws by attending the Prime Minister’s 10th birthday party.
Wolfson said he was resigning not only because of “his own behavior” but also because of “the official response to what happened.” He said the behavior was in stark contrast to many in society, who “followed the rules at great personal cost, and others were fined or prosecuted for similar and sometimes apparently more trivial crimes.”
Johnson tried to gather senior ministers behind him by holding a virtual cabinet on Wednesday afternoon. Welsh Secretary Simon Hart has said Johnson will not leave, even if he receives multiple fines. “I don’t necessarily see the difference between one or two,” he told Times Radio.
By Wednesday afternoon, ahead of Wolfson’s resignation, momentum for lawmakers ready to oust Johnson seemed to be holding back – only two Tory MPs added their votes to calls for the prime minister to resign, Amber Valley MP Nigel Mills and Craig Whitaker. from the Calder Valley.
Mills said he would write a no-confidence motion to the 1922 chairman of the committee: “I think the prime minister’s post to receive a fine and accept it and pay for violating the laws he introduced is simply impossible.” he said.
In the Halifax Courier, Whitaker called on the prime minister to resign and “do the right thing” – although he said he would not write a letter of no confidence, predicting that Johnson would win every vote.
On social media, the majority of MPs united in defense of Johnson. But a former №10 adviser predicts fines could still be “fatal” to the prime minister’s career. “Conservatives, if they stand for something, stand for the rule of law and law and order,” they said. “If they cannot follow their own rules and do not show humility in the face of justice, it is impossible for them to keep this mantle.”
Key acquaintances said they believed Johnson was likely to receive at least three more fines for events not yet fully investigated by police.
Events the metropolitan police have yet to investigate, which Johnson is attending, include a summer party in May 2020, a November reunion at Johnson’s apartment with his wife on the day Dominic Cummings left, and the departure of a senior aide to No. 10 days later. Sources said none of those present had yet received a fine for the events.
Some Tories have expressed concern that Johnson’s strategy was to downplay the significance of the event he was fined for – a brief birthday party in the cabinet. “It was a terrible mistake in the communication for the deputies to be informed that the event lasted only 10 minutes and that the prime minister was unfairly abused,” said a Tory source.
Lord Frost, the former cabinet minister, also expressed concern that new devastating revelations would come. “I don’t think it’s possible to just say, ‘It was then, it’s now, let’s move on, the world is different,’ as the government is trying to do this morning,” he told LBC. “We still don’t know what other punishments can be imposed and on whom.”
Sources No. 10 said the prime minister attended a cabinet birthday party in June 2020 in less than 10 minutes, eating a salad from a plastic bowl and refusing alcohol or party food.
But those attending the prime minister’s birthday say they raised eyebrows at the gathering’s description, with one describing it as a “party atmosphere” with singing attended by his wife, Carrie Johnson, and his interior designer, Lulu Little.
Others said they believed the photos taken by Johnson’s personal photographer – which were uncovered during Sue Gray’s official investigation into the blockade parties – would leave no doubt that this was a rule-breaking event.
A police source said Met’s detectives’ assessment that the prime minister had violated the rules more than once would increase future fines. The level of the fine would increase each time Johnson was found to have violated or found to have violated the rules he had imposed.
The source added that the defense that Johnson and his supporters are making that people do not realize they are at parties was “deliberate” because many rules were written to stop any gathering of people indoors: “The law never speaks for parties, he talked about gatherings. It doesn’t have to be music and dancing – you can’t get together indoors.
“The whole reason was to stop the transmission of the disease. Neglecting public health is appalling. Why don’t you know you’re breaking the rules? “
Although three MPs who had previously called for Johnson to leave said the war in Ukraine meant they did not believe it was the right time to compete, others backed their no-confidence letters Thursday, including Gary Streetter, Caroline Knox , Anthony Mangnal and Tobias Elwood.
Another MP said they were deeply concerned about further revelations and a drip ahead of the local election and Gray’s final report. “Each of them will go like a hammer into the nail of the Tory coffin, and what the prime minister is doing is involving all deputies in this. We are on a long, slow march of death. “
Chancellor Rishi Sunak also apologized for violating the rules after receiving a notice with a fixed sanction for attending the meeting, after a seven-hour discussion during which he reportedly considered his position.
Sunak’s allies said Wednesday they believe they missed an opportunity for the chancellor not to resign on Tuesday after receiving notice of a fixed penalty. “My opinion is that he should have left months ago and kept his integrity intact, but now he is at the mercy of being fired this summer,” said one.