UK

The Partygate investigation has left more questions than answers


To his critics’ evident disappointment, the Metropolitan Police’s investigation into lockdown rule-breaking in Downing Street concluded without the Prime Minister receiving multiple fines. Boris Johnson was given only one fixed penalty notice, for attending a birthday gathering. In total, 126 fines were awarded for events on eight different dates. A team of 12 detectives had worked on the investigation, examining 345 documents, 510 photographs and CCTV images, and 204 questionnaires.

But the results of their work leave rather more questions than answers. It is unfortunate, for one thing, that the Met is not naming the recipients of the penalties. While Mr Johnson and Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, opted to inform the public when they received a fine, others were under no obligation to do the same. The result is that it is not clear whether junior officials bore the brunt of the penalties, fairly or not. It is also impossible to know whether the police conducted their investigation properly. In particular, it has left some observers wondering why it is that some events resulted in the Met taking action, while others did not.

In part, that may be due to the absurdity of the lockdown rules themselves. They changed so often, and in such obscure ways, that an event that might have been found in breach one month could have been perfectly legal the next, even if the effect of each set of rules was intended to be the same.

In any case, the country should never have been in a situation in which a birthday party could be considered illegal. Or indeed, a drink and a curry with colleagues. Sir Keir Starmer, who relished the opportunity presented by “partygate” to moralise on the Government’s sins, is himself facing an investigation by police in Durham over an event involving exactly that.

Mr Johnson is not out of the woods yet. Now that the Met’s investigation has finished, a report by the senior civil servant Sue Gray is due to be published within days. He also faces a separate inquiry by a Commons committee into whether he misled Parliament, so this saga may have months more to run.

The Government is rightly keen to move on to more pressing issues such as the cost of living crisis and the war in Ukraine, but the public is still entitled to an explanation as to why we ended up enduring such ridiculous lockdown rules in the first place. Will we ever get it?


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