LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson was told on Tuesday that he would receive a fine for breaking lockdown rules at Downing Street, making him the first holder of his office to be found breaking the law in living memory.
In a statement London’s Metropolitan Police said it had identified at least 50 breaches of the law as part of its inquiry into the “partygate” scandal that has dealt severe damage to Mr. Johnson.
Though the police did not name any of those fined, the prime minister’s office later said that Mr. Johnson and the chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, had both been told they will receive fixed penalty notices for breaking the law.
In its statement, the Metropolitan Police said that the inquiry into allegations of breaches of Covid lockdown rules in Whitehall and Downing Street, the complex of offices and official homes at the heart of the British government, “continues to progress,” and that, as of Tuesday, it had made “over 50 referrals for fixed penalty notices,” the process for levying a fine without a court appearance.
“The prime minister and the chancellor of the Exchequer have today received notification that the Metropolitan Police intend to issue them with fixed penalty notices,” Downing Street said in a statement. Such notices are given when the police believe a criminal offense has been committed, result in a modest fine, and, though there is no appeal, could be disputed in court — though there was no suggestion from Downing Street on Tuesday that Mr. Johnson intended to do so.
The announcement on Tuesday immediately revived the furor over the “partygate” scandal, with the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, demanding Mr. Johnson’s resignation.
Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have broken the law and repeatedly lied to the British public.
They must both resign.
The Conservatives are totally unfit to govern. Britain deserves better.
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) April 12, 2022
More important, however, will be the reaction of lawmakers in the governing Conservative Party, the only group who could force a no-confidence motion for Mr. Johnson. It would happen were 54 of them to demand one.
While that prospect seemed imminent earlier this year when the crisis threatened to sweep Mr. Johnson from power, his political fortunes have rebounded since largely because of the focus on the war in Ukraine. Some lawmakers who had called formally for a vote on Mr. Johnson’s future withdrew their requests, arguing that now was not the time to replace him.
Nonetheless Mr. Johnson is now in the uncomfortable position of being the only prime minister in living memory to have broken laws that he made himself. In addition, he has denied that coronavirus rules were breached, exposing himself to the charge that he misled Parliament. By convention, that is normally regarded as a resigning matter in British politics.
Lawmakers are away from Parliament this week because of the Easter recess, a factor that could make it harder for Mr. Johnson’s internal critics to organize against him. Some of Mr. Johnson’s allies have argued in the past that receiving a fixed penalty notice is more akin to a speeding ticket than a successful prosecution and a group of loyal lawmakers have rallied around the prime minister in recent months.
The prime minister’s position inside the Conservative Party has also strengthened in recent days because of a crisis engulfing the chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, the man many assumed to be in prime position to take over were Mr. Johnson to fall. Significantly, Mr. Sunak was also told he would be fined over “partygate,” as was Carrie Johnson, the wife of the prime minister.
Credit…Daniel Leal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
However, the situation remains precarious for Mr. Johnson. The scandal has been particularly damaging because, at the time of the Downing Street parties, many people in Britain were prevented from having contact with dying relatives.
“Boris Johnson was partying and breaking his own lockdown rules, while we were unable to be at loved ones’ sides in their dying moments, or in miserable funerals with only a handful of people,” said a statement on Twitter from a group called Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice U.K.
“There is simply no way either the prime minister or chancellor can continue. Their dishonesty has caused untold hurt to the bereaved,” it added.
Even after being judged to have broken the rules, Mr. Johnson still faces further embarrassment because he has promised that once the police investigation is complete, he will publish an internal government report into the parties that took place in Downing Street. An interim version of that document, compiled by the senior civil servant Sue Gray, was damaging enough to precipitate the police investigation.
The Metropolitan Police’s inquiry into the parties is still underway and its statement on Tuesday said that officers were “continuing to assess significant amounts of investigative material” — a hint, perhaps, that further fines are to come.
Against this backdrop, Conservatives face a test of their popularity next month in local elections in which a poor result would further increase pressure on Mr. Johnson.
Megan Specia contributed reporting.