Good morning. It has been out of the news for weeks, but the Partygate scandal is back in the headlines today, with the Metropolitan police poised to announced that it is issuing the first tranche of fines to people attending parties at No 10 or in Whitehall that broke Covid regulations. My colleagues Aubrey Allegretti and Jessica Elgot broke the story last night.
It is still not clear exactly how today will play out, but it is quite possible that we’ll end up with what journalists call a “one fact story” – in the form of a short announcement from the Met saying that a certain number of fines have been issued. The Met won’t issue a full list of names and, although No 10 has said it will say if Boris Johnson gets issued with a fine, it is not committed to naming other people. And today’s fines will only be the start. The Met has already contacted more than 100 people who may have broken lockdown rules through Partygate, and earlier this month it said its investigation was widening. This process has a lot further to go.
But a one fact story can nevertheless be sensational, and confirmation that people are being fined for breaking Covid rules at No 10 would be hugely significant. When Sue Gray, the civil servant investigating the affair, published her interim “update” in January, she implied very strongly that the law had been broken – but she stressed that ultimately that was not a judgment for her. She said:
It is not for me to make a judgment on whether the criminal law has been broken; that is properly a matter for law enforcement.
Today any lingering uncertainty about whether or not the law was broken at No 10 is expected to be swept away. That, obviously, will revive questions about why Boris Johnson repeatedly assured MPs, and the public, that the rules were followed.
But whether or not No 10 will address these questions today is a different matter. If it does, we might move on to a two fact story. But, judging by what Will Quince, the education minister, said when asked about this on the Today programme, the government is stalling its response. Quince told Today:
I understand the public interest in the considerable upset caused. There’s no question the events that took place shouldn’t have happened. But I know you will appreciate it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment while there’s an ongoing police investigation.
Quince did concede that the parties “shouldn’t have happened”. But that was implicit in Johnson’s statement on MPs on 31 January, when the first Sue Gray “report” was published.
Here is the agenda for the day.
Morning: Boris Johnson chairs cabinet.
10.30am: Sue Gray gives evidence to the House of Lords common frameworks scrutiny committee. The common frameworks programme is a mechanism for ensuring Westminster and the devolved governments implement powers repatriated from the EU in a way that avoids clashes. Gray is giving evidence because, when not investigating No 10 partying, her day job is second permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, with responsibility for the constitution.
Around 10.45am: Peter Hebblethwaite, the P&O chief executive, gives evidence to the Scottish parliament’s net zero committee.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
11.30am: Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, takes questions in the Commons.
Afternoon: MPs debate a Labour motion that would force the government to publish government internal advice and minutes relating to the decision to give Evgeny Lebedev a peerage.
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