I don’t understand the logic behind how the Met Police is conducting its probe into unlawful parties at Downing Street and the Cabinet Office.
My confusion reached brain-aching proportions after my colleague Anushka Asthana disclosed on Friday that officials had received fixed penalty notices – fines – for attending perhaps the most famous of all the Downing Street events, the Bring Your Own Booze garden party on May 20, 2020, revealed by an email leaked to ITV News.
The point is that I know of at least two relatively junior officials who have been informed by the police that they’ve been fined. So there is no longer any doubt this was a law-breaking party.
On January 12, 2022, he told MPs he was there for 25 minutes and – although at the time he thought it was a “work event” and was therefore allowed – he latterly realised that “with hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside”.
In other words, he conceded he was the person at this rule-breaking party who had the authority to break it up, and that he should have done so.
Common sense would therefore suggest he bears at least some responsibility for this law-breaking occasion.
None of which is to say that there aren’t extenuating circumstances for why a number of officials have been fined and he has not. It’s just that the police aren’t explaining why some officials broke the law and seemingly he did not.
And to add insult to the injury of the fined officials, one of the reasons they were there in the first place was to be thanked by the PM for all their hard work (it was a party with a purpose, but still a party for all that).
To be clear, we know for a fact the PM hasn’t been fined, because his advisers have given assurances that as and when he receives a fixed penalty notice, they will instantly publicise that fact.
What’s stranger still, Downing Street is also indicating the PM didn’t even receive a questionnaire relating to this party – which if true would suggest the police ruled out fining him very early on.
I want to stress, for the avoidance of doubt, that I am not saying it is a scandal or miscarriage of justice or wrong that the PM hasn’t been fined for the event on May 20, 2020. The point is I don’t know.
It is also theoretically possible that Boris Johnson will end up receiving a questionnaire and being fined, and that he is simply at the back of some weird bureaucratic queue. But this anomaly is not trivial. It matters, to the public reputation of the prime minister, how many times he is fined for breaching the Covid rules he wrote.
And later, as the Commons Privileges Committee determines whether the PM deliberately lied to MPs when he told them there were no parties – and also as Tory MPs consider whether Mr Johnson is fit and proper to remain their leader and by extension to be our prime minister – it matters precisely why the police may fine him for some parties and not for others.
Even when there are bigger problems directly affecting our lives to solve – Vladimir Putin, the cost of living – a police investigation of a serving prime minister is a massive deal. The lack of clarity and transparency on it undermines confidence in our version of democracy.
Public understanding of how the police conduct the probe and reach their decisions will be hugely important if the police themselves are to avoid the taint of incompetence or political partiality.