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‘World has moved on’ from partygate, minister suggests

Cabinet ministers said the war in Ukraine had dwarfed the importance of the alleged rule-breaking.

04 April 2022

The “world has moved on” from the partygate saga, a minister has claimed, as his Cabinet colleague said some of the rules imposed on the country were “inhuman” and Boris Johnson was given the wrong information over rule-breaking.

Welsh Secretary Simon Hart said his constituents were not calling for resignations over parties held in No 10 and across Whitehall during Covid restrictions, as it was revealed the Government’s former ethics chief had received a fine.

Helen MacNamara, the former deputy cabinet secretary, was reported to be among those to receive a fixed-penalty notice (FPN) from Scotland Yard as part of its investigation into alleged lockdown-breaching parties.

Jacob Rees-Mogg phone-in on LBC
Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency in the Cabinet Office Jacob Rees-Mogg (right) takes part in the Call the Cabinet phone-in on LBC’s Nick Ferrari at Breakfast show (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The Daily Telegraph reported that Ms MacNamara received a £50 fine on Friday in connection with a leaving do held in the Cabinet Office on June 18 2020 to mark the departure of a private secretary.

Meanwhile, The Guardian reported others had been fined for a gathering held on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral last year.

Welsh Secretary Simon Hart said on Monday that “of course” the allegations of partying did not sit comfortably with him, but he dismissed calls that anyone should resign if they were issued with a penalty.

“I have 65,000 constituents in west Wales, where I represent, and they are not shy in coming forward and expressing a view about this and a number of other subjects,” he told Sky News.

“And throughout all of this saga of the Downing Street parties they have said one thing very clearly, and in a vast majority they say they want contrition and they want an apology, but they don’t want a resignation.”

Mr Hart said “the world has moved on a considerable distance” and he told TalkRadio: “Looking at how this interview started and what we’re seeing in Ukraine, that helps contextualise all of this in my head.

Coronavirus – Tue Jul 21, 2020
Welsh Secretary Simon Hart (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“And I think we’re now dealing with something of such seriousness and such horror that what went on maybe two years ago clearly needs to be dealt with, and should be – it’s a source of irritation for a lot of people still – but I’m glad that this thing is now coming to a conclusion.”

It comes as Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested Prime Minister Mr Johnson had been handed incorrect information about the gatherings before he told MPs no rules had been broken.

“The Prime Minister said that he was told the rules were followed, but that turns out not to be correct and we know that fines have now been issued, but the Prime Minister can only work on the information he is given,” he told LBC.

Mr Rees-Mogg also defended his dismissal of the partygate row as “fluff” in the context of the war in Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis.

He said some of the coronavirus restrictions imposed during lockdown were “inhuman”.

“I think those words in the context of what’s going on in Ukraine are completely reasonable,” he said.

Downing Street partygate
The front door of 10 Downing Street (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“I don’t think the issue of what may or may not have happened in Downing Street and what we are now finding out is fundamental.

“What I think is fundamental is that we look in the (Covid-19) inquiry at how the rules were devised and the effect that they had, because I think some of those rules were inhuman.”

He acknowledged that people were “undeniably cross” but insisted that Mr Johnson had not misled Parliament about the situation.

Conservative MP Steve Brine on Sunday night called for transparency about who has been issued with fines.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour on Sunday, the MP for Winchester said: “They should just be honest about who’s been tipped off with what and put it all out there and say, you know what, we got this wrong, or this person’s got this fine, because these guys in the press, they won’t focus on the issues of the local election, they’ll scratch around and try and dig all this stuff up again.”

The Met is investigating 12 events, including as many as six that Mr Johnson is said to have attended, and has sent out more than 100 questionnaires.

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