Will Quince said it appeared the police investigation ‘looks like it may be concluding relatively soon’.
29 March 2022
A Government minister has said alleged Covid restriction-busting parties held across Downing Street and Whitehall “shouldn’t have happened” amid reports Westminster is braced for the first wave of fines in the so-called partygate saga.
The Guardian reported overnight that the first fixed penalty notices (FPNs) will be issued imminently following an investigation by the Metropolitan Police into 12 events, including as many as six Prime Minister Boris Johnson is said to have attended.
Detectives investigating alleged gatherings revealed last week they had begun interviewing key witnesses.
It follows the issuing of more than 100 questionnaires over the alleged offences
The Guardian reported the Met could issue around 20 fines as early as Tuesday but education minister Will Quince said it would be “inappropriate” to comment, although he added on LBC that the “police investigation looks like it may be concluding relatively soon”.
He told Sky News: “I entirely understand why you asked that question. I understand the huge public interest.
“I completely understand the considerable upset caused, the events that took place shouldn’t have happened.
“But I hope you’ll understand that both as an education minister but more importantly, as there’s ongoing live Metropolitan Police investigation, it’s just not appropriate that I comment.”
He said questions over whether the Prime Minister should resign if fined were “hypothetical” but also said Boris Johnson had committed to publish the full report by senior official Sue Gray into the scandal “as soon as the Metropolitan Police have concluded their investigation”.
He added: “Looking at the moment over in Ukraine, and even worse over in Russia, I think it’s a brilliant thing that we have a free press in this country that is able to ask these kinds of questions.”
Speaking on LBC he said he did think it was a “serious issue” and said: “You’ll have noticed there have been considerable changes at Downing Street.”
The Times reported that it was not thought Mr Johnson would be among those receiving fines on Tuesday.
The Met said it would not provide a “running commentary”.
The gatherings under investigation include a “bring your own booze” event, details of which were emailed to staff at No 10 by the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds in May 2020, and a surprise get-together for Mr Johnson’s birthday in June 2020.
Mr Johnson previously admitted he was at the former for 25 minutes – claiming he believed it was a work event – while Downing Street said staff “gathered briefly” in the Cabinet Room to mark the Prime Minister’s 56th birthday.
In January, civil servant Ms Gray published a report into the saga, which said there were “failures of leadership and judgment” in parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office while England was under coronavirus restrictions in 2020 and 2021.