Boris Johnson swerves partygate questions and insists he's focused on threat to Europe from Putin

Boris Johnson has been visiting Sweden and Finland to sign agreements bolstering their protection from Russia. Credit: PA

Boris Johnson has refused to be drawn on whether he should quit as prime minister over the partygate scandal, saying he's more focused on defending Europe from the "clear potential of Russia to launch unprovoked aggression".

The PM signed security assurance agreements with Sweden and Finland on Wednesday, with the UK and its Nordic partners pledging to "bolster military ties" in the face of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

But as the PM visited those countries he continued to face calls from the UK for his resignation over the partygate scandal, as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to if he if fined for breaking coronavirus laws.

Asked in Finland if he'd quit, Mr Johnson told ITV News: "I'm going to get on with making sure that we try to fortify the defences of Europe against the clear potential of Russia to launch unprovoked aggression."

During his earlier visit to Sweden the PM was asked if he was acting "dishonourably" by remaining in No 10 in the light of Sir Keir's pledge, but refused to give a direct response.

"We have tried to move beyond all that," he told a joint news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.

"I think we are trying to focus on the issues that really matter, not least Ukraine."

Sir Keir said he would stand down if Durham Police found he had broken Covid rules, after the force launched an investigation after the Labour leader was seen drinking beer with staff in a party office in Durham in April last year, while most indoor socialising was banned.

Police previously cleared him of wrongdoing after viewing a photograph which showed him drinking a beer with other staff present, but last week said it had launched a formal criminal investigation after “significant new information” came to light.

Sir Keir has always insisted no rules were broken, explaining that staff who had been working on the Hartlepool by-election campaign on the evening of April 30, 2021 paused briefly to eat a takeaway before resuming their work.

"I'm absolutely clear that no laws were broken, they were followed at all times," Sir Keir said in a press conference earlier this week, but added: "If the police decide to issue me with a Fixed Penalty Notice, I would of course do the right thing and step down."

Many in Westminster said the promise was a gamble he was forced to take after repeatedly urging the PM to resign over his own partygate fine.

Mr Johnson, his wife Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were all fined £50 for celebrating the PM's 56th birthday in June 2020.

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While Mr Johnson has so far resisted calls to stand down, many Tories remain deeply unhappy over events in No 10 and the pressure could increase if he is fined again.

There's also the threat of the long-awaited final report of Sue Gray, which many believe will be highly damaging for the PM.