Boris Johnson does not correct his claim 'no Covid rules were broken' despite partygate fines

ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports on the confusing messaging coming from Boris Johnson about partygate

Boris Johnson has refused to accept coronavirus rules were broken on Downing Street during the pandemic, despite the first partygate fines being issued - indicating police believe laws had not been obeyed.

The prime minister repeatedly ducked questions at the Liaison Committee about the partygate scandal and his future as PM after the Metropolitan Police issued 20 fixed penalty notices relating to a probe into 12 gatherings held on government premises during the pandemic.

Keir Starmer said at PMQs that the fines show "police have now concluded there was widespread criminality" on Downing Street, despite Mr Johnson's insistence on December 8 last year that all rules were always followed during lockdowns.

Why is the PM denying laws have been broken when fines have already been issued? ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand answers

Political Editor Robert Peston said that left Mr Johnson with two options under parliamentary convention; either resign for misleading MPs or correct in the Commons his claims that no rules were broken. The prime minister chose neither.

At the Liaison Committee, SNP MP Pete Wishart asked Mr Johnson to accept "there has been criminality committed", given Scotland Yard's decision to issue fixed penalty notices.

The PM said: "I have been, I hope, very frank with the House about where I think we have gone wrong and the things that I regret, that I apologise for.

"But there is an ongoing investigation... I am going to camp pretty firmly on my position."

Mr Johnson faced shouts of "resign" from opposition MPs at Prime Minister's Questions as concerns over rule breaches in Downing Street were raised.

Watch PMQs in full:

"Why is he still here?" asked Mr Starmer after citing the ministerial code, which says ministers should resign if they knowingly mislead Parliament.

Mr Johnson hit back, saying "it was only a week or so ago he was saying I shouldn't resign".

He added: "Of course the investigators must get on with their job but in the meantime we're going to get on with our job."

Critics say the prime minister misled MPs when he insisted on December 8 that the rules were always followed, one day after ITV News released the infamous clip of Number 10 staff laughing about attending a lockdown-busting Christmas party.

At PMQs on December 8, Mr Johnson said: "I have been repeatedly assured that the rules were not broken. I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken."

Mr Starmer told MPs on Wednesday that "there are only two possible explanations" to the PM's claim from last year.

"Either he's trashing the ministerial code or he's claiming he was repeatedly lied to by his own advisers, that he didn't know what was going on in his own house and his own office. Come off it.

"He really does think it's one rule for him and another rule for everyone else, that he can pass off criminality in his office and ask others to follow the law."

Dominic Raab earlier accepted that the fines show rules were broken, but defended Mr Johnson by saying he gave MPs the "best information he had at the time".

The deputy PM said it would be up to Mr Johnson to decide if he wanted to correct the record.

Downing Street refused to accept the law has been broken, despite the fines, saying Number 10's position had not changed.

"We are maintaining our position. There is an ongoing process here. The Met have come to a conclusion and have started a process which relates to 20 fines, and we respect that," the spokesman said.

"We will not be commenting further on the detail of what happened until the investigation is concluded.

"It simply would not be right for me to give the prime minister's view in the midst of an ongoing Met Police investigation."

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Mr Johnson is not one of those to have received fines in the first tranche of fixed penalty notices but he is one of more than 100 people being investigated by police under Operation Hillman, as the probe is known.

It is understood the PM attended at least six of the gatherings however his defence is that it was always part of his working day.

Number 10 has confirmed it will reveal if Mr Johnson is fined by police, but will not name any other individuals except Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, who is among the other most high-profile people being investigated.

Fines start at £100 for the first offence, growing to £200 for the second offence before doubling for each repeat offence before hitting the cap of £6,400.

Any individual is entitled to appeal their fine, which could see the appellant appear in court.

A fixed penalty notice is not a criminal conviction, yet it can be recorded on the Police National Computer - it is the equivalent to a minor speeding offence.