Boris Johnson’s premiership is in question once again. The Metropolitan Police will issue 20 fixed-penalty notices for breaches of Covid restrictions because of the Downing Street parties, a move that confirms that those at the heart of government broke the law.
How politically damaging the investigation is partly depends on who is fined and whether we find out. The Met has said it will not disclose the names of those fined, nor will it confirm which parties triggered the fines. Nonetheless, it seems likely that details of who has been fined – particularly if they are senior civil servants or Downing Street staffers – will eventually be uncovered. The closer the fines come to Johnson himself, the greater the pressure on his position.
No 10 will be hoping that pressure doesn’t come from those who will ultimately decide the Prime Minister’s fate: Conservative MPs. One key reason that they could try to remove Johnson is if he knowingly misled parliament – usually a resignation offence. In December, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that all restrictions rules were followed. We now know that they were not and, as Johnson attended some of the parties himself, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain that he didn’t knowingly mislead the Commons. The question is whether Tory MPs believe this warrants his departure as PM.
Johnson is set to host Tory MPs in London tonight (29 March) for dinner. It could be fortuitous timing for the Prime Minister: it provides him with an opportunity to allay their concerns and to reassert his authority. But this is only the beginning. Although Labour and some of his own MPs dropped their calls for him to resign following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the war has not bolstered Johnson’s position as much as some expected. Labour remains ahead in the polls and the public has been unimpressed by the government’s response to the living standards crisis. Furthermore, the Met said its investigation was not over, which suggests that this was only an initial batch of penalties. The number of fines could grow, and so too could calls for Johnson to resign.