Good morning. It used to be said that Boris Johnson was a politician who always refused to apologize for anything. While in some respects true (although most politicians are loth to issue an apology), it is no longer a useful observation to make about Johnson because he has now established quite a substantial back catalog of Partygate apologies. We will get another addition to the collection today.
Today’s is likely to be modeled on the statement he made on camera at Checkers a week ago today which started:
Today I have received a fixed-penalty notice from the Metropolitan police relating to an event in Downing Street on 19 June 2020, and let me say immediately that I have paid the fine and I once again offer a full apology.
And in a spirit of openness and humility, I want to be completely clear about what happened on that date.
Over the last week some of Johnson’s aides and allies have been briefing journalists, without attribution, that the fine does not matter much because it is akin to a parking ticket, or a speeding offense. This morning. Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, tried deploying this argument on the record. He told Sky News:
I think we do see consistently, whether it is through parking fines or speeding fines, ministers of both parties over the years have been in that position. We’ve had prime ministers in the past who have received penalty notices, from what I can see, and also frontbench ministers.
I saw there was a parking notice that Tony Blair had once. We’ve seen frontbench Labor ministers and, let’s be frank, government ministers as well.
You’ve asked me, can someone who sets the laws and the rules, can they also be someone who breaks the rules. That clearly has happened with a number of ministers over the years.
It was not clear what Lewis was referring to – Blair never drove a car when he was PM, so parking tickets were a matter for his driver – but the folly of making the parking/speeding ticket comparison were highlighted when Lewis tried it again an hour or so later on the Today program. He said there had been cases in the past where Labor or Conservative ministers were given speeding fines (no mention of Blair and a parking ticket this time). When the presenter, Mishal Husainasked him to clarify this, Lewis said:
As I say, if somebody gets a speeding ticket – and I’m not in any way trying to equate a speeding ticket that somebody has had with the situation of the sacrifices people made through Covid, I’ll be really clear about that .. .
Husain interrupted, telling Lewis: “You’ve actually literally just done that.” Later she told him:
These were rules that we were told we couldn’t even flex because lives are at stake. This was a moment of national crisis in which all our lives changed. And you are essentially downplaying that by bringing in some spurious reports that you’ve heard without even backing.
At this point Lewis retreated, falling back on his point that when Johnson told MPs that the rules had been following in No 10, he was saying what he believed to be true at the time.
Opposition party MPs have ridiculed Lewis for his comments. This is from the Green MP Caroline Lucas.
And this is from the Plaid Cymru MP Hwyel Williams.
Here is my colleague Aubrey Allegretti’s overnight preview story. Although there will be interest in the exact nature of Johnson’s latest apology, and the Tory reaction to it, the main news today is likely to come when Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, announces how he will respond to opposition calls for a debate on a motion about claims Johnson deliberately misled MPs. It seems we are likely to have a vote later this week on some form of contempt motion, either calling for an inquiry, or declaring outright that Johnson did intentionally mislead MPs. Given the size of the Tory majority, Johnson is almost certain to win, but the opposition parties want to shame the MPs who have to defend him.
Here is the agenda for the day.
10.30am: Energy companies give evidence to the Commons business committee about energy prices.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
After 3.30pm: Boris Johnson is due to make a statement to MPs, covering Ukraine and his fine for attending a surprise birthday party in No 10 in breach of lockdown rules.
Early evening: Johnson is due to address a private meeting of Conservative MPs.
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