Boris Johnson being fined for breaking the coronavirus rules he set is similar to former ministers receiving speeding fines, a Cabinet minister appeared to suggest.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said other ministers, including former prime minister Tony Blair, had received fixed-penalty notices and remained in office.
Johnson, along with his wife Carrie Johnson and Rishi Sunak, were fined by the Metropolitan Police for attending a birthday party thrown in his honour in the Cabinet room in June 2020, while coronavirus restrictions were in place.
Lewis told Sky News the Prime Minister was not the first No 10 incumbent to receive a penalty for a legal infringement.
Speeding ticket comparison
“I think we do see consistently, whether it is through parking fines or speeding fines, ministers of both parties over the years have been in that position,” said the former Conservative Party chairman.
“We’ve had prime ministers in the past who have received penalty notices, from what I can see, and also front bench ministers.
“I saw there was a parking notice that Tony Blair had once. We’ve seen front bench Labour ministers and, let’s be frank, Government ministers as well.”
He added: “You’ve asked me, can someone who sets the laws and the rules, can they also be someone who breaks the rules?
“That clearly has happened with a number of ministers over the years.”
Questioned about his choice of response on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Lewis replied: “I’m not in any way trying to equate a speeding ticket with the sacrifices people have made through Covid.”
He was torn apart by the BBC’s Mishal Hussein over the suggestion, who told him he had “literally just done that”.
‘No end of people in tears’
Senior opposition MPs also weighed in to say there was a “massive difference” between a Covid FPN and a speeding ticket.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, a former director of public prosecutions, told ITV’s Lorraine programme: “I have never had anybody break down in front of me because they couldn’t drive at 35mph in a 30mph zone; I have had no end of people in tears – in real bits – about complying with rules that really, really hurt them.”
Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the Northern Ireland Secretary’s response was an “insult to bereaved families and all those who made huge sacrifices while Johnson partied”.
The prime minister is due to address the Commons on Tuesday as he attempts to convince his critics there are bigger issues to focus on than the Partygate saga.
It is thought he will apologise for the rule breaching but emphasise the need to deal with the crisis in Ukraine and unlawful migration.
Johnson will face pressure to address criticisms that he misled Parliament – an offence traditionally seen as a resigning matter for ministers – in previous statements about rule-breaking in No 10, during which he argued Covid guidance had been followed at all times.