Boris Johnson has not formally accepted that the law was broken, No 10 has said, despite police saying 20 fixed-penalty notices would be issued for breaches of Covid rules after allegations of lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street.
Any No 10 civil servants or other staff fined for breaching lockdown rules will not be obliged to tell their managers, and the names of those fined will not be released, Johnson’s spokesperson said.
The only exceptions to this will be Johnson himself, and Simon Case, the cabinet secretary. No 10 initially said Case would not be named if fined, but Johnson’s spokesman said later this would happen “given his unique position from him”.
The Metropolitan police said those who received the fines would not be named publicly, according to the professional practice guidance for fixed-penalty notices (FPNs).
The force said on Tuesday there was a “significant amount of investigative material that remains to be assessed” and that further purposes would be issued if the evidence threshold was met.
The Guardian reported on Monday night that 20 fines were expected for the most straightforward cases, with Boris Johnson unlikely to be among them as he has denied breaking the law.
The officials and staff who have been issued with FPNs have not yet been informed. Downing Street has said it does not know the identity of any of the 20.
Johnson’s spokesperson said there was no obligation for any civil servants or special advisers who were fined to tell their managers, and that they would not be asked. Some might need to disclose it for vetting processes, depending on their security level, he said.
Any action against staff connected to the parties would come as part of the parallel report into the claims, led by the senior civil servant Sue Gray, the spokesperson said, adding: “There are existing HR processes for anyone who breaks rules in the civil service , and those are well established.”
He declined to say whether Johnson, who has repeatedly denied any breach of the rules, now accepted the law was broken on his watch: “It’s for the Met to make that judgment rather than the prime minister. You will hear more from the prime minister once the report has concluded.”
Johnson was not expected to comment on the matter until the end of the police investigation, and the subsequent publication of the second part of the report by Sue Gray, the spokesperson said.
The Downing Street position prompted immediate criticism, with the former chief whip Mark Harper tweeting that officials and special advisers “are bound by the Civil Service Code … which says you must *comply with the law*.”
Police are investigating 12 events in 2020 and 2021, six of which Johnson is said to have attended. The force said it had obtained more than 300 photographs and 500 pages of documents, stemming from a Whitehall inquiry by Gray.
The Downing Street gatherings included a summer drinks party where attenders were invited to “bring your own booze”, leaving two for civil servants and an alleged gathering in Johnson’s flat.
The Met said it would not confirm the number of referrals from each individual event, saying that may inadvertently lead to people being identified.
Those fined will receive a letter from the criminal records office, Acro, giving 28 days to pay the penalty. It is thought at this stage that the Met is probably referring people for ends of £100 or £200.
One police source said: “The Met would not put that application [for a fine] into Acro if they were not certain of their case. This is the low-hanging fruit.”
If the ends are disputed, the Met will review them. Those identified as facing ends could in theory produce evidence that shows they did not breach the regulations.
Labor’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, renewed calls for Johnson to resign and said that it should apply as well to the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, who has also been issued with a police questionnaire about lockdown gatherings.
“The culture is set from the very top. The buck stops with the prime minister, who spent months lying to the British public, which is why he has got to go,” she said. “It is disgraceful that while the rest of the country followed their rules, Boris Johnson’s government acted like they did not apply to them.”
The Liberal Democrats said the breaches within Downing Street were enough to compel Johnson to resign even if he was not personally fined.
The Lib Dem leader, Ed Davey, said: “If Boris Johnson thinks he can get away with Partygate by paying expensive lawyers and throwing junior staff to the wolves, he is wrong. We all know who he is responsible for. The prime minister must resign, or Conservative MPs must sack him.”
A number of Tory MPs have privately said they would move to trigger a vote of no confidence if Johnson is fined by the Met, although some have withdrawn letters of no confidence because of the Ukraine crisis.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism