Top Cabinet members rally round Boris as minister resigns over Partygate

13 April 2022, 08:22 | Updated: 13 April 2022, 23:13

The PM has defied pressure to quit
The PM has defied pressure to quit. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

The Cabinet has rallied around Boris Johnson after a Tory MP broke ranks to call for him to resign over partygate.

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Priti Patel has now backed the Prime Minister, becoming the last senior member of cabinet to do so.

Her support means the top team in Government appears willing to support him despite past rumours of leadership bids.

It comes as a justice minister, Lord David Wolfson, resigned on Wednesday evening, saying it would be "inconsistent with the rule of law for that conduct to pass with constitutional impunity".

Mr Johnson has paid his fine, which was issued over a birthday gathering that included his wife in June 2020.

A Home Office source said Mr Johnson enjoyed Ms Patel's "full support", as did the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, who was also fined.

A Conservative MP became the first Tory to call for Boris Johnson to resign as PM after he was fined for breaking Covid laws.

Backbencher Nigel Mills said: "I don’t think the PM can survive or should survive breaking the rules he put in place … He's been fined."

And Lord Wolfson said in a letter published on Twitter on Wednesday: "I regret that recent disclosures lead to the inevitable conclusion that there was repeated rule-breaking, and breaches of the criminal law, in Downing Street.

"I have - again, with considerable regret - come to the conclusion that the scale, context and nature of those breaches mean that it would be inconsistent with the rule of law for that conduct to pass with constitutional impunity, especially when many in society complied with the rules at great personal cost, and others were fined or prosecuted for similar, and sometimes apparently more trivial, offences.

"It is not just a question of what happened in Downing Street, or your own conduct. It is also, and perhaps more so, the official response to what took place.

"As we obviously do not share that view of these matters, I must ask you to accept my resignation."

Boris Johnson has said he is "sorry to receive" Lord Wolfson's resignation.

The Prime Minister wrote to the Tory peer: "We have greatly benefited from your years of legal experience, and you can be proud of the contribution you have made to the Government as we have implemented important reforms to cut crime and support victims."

Lord Wolfon's comments come as claims surfaced that Chancellor Rishi Sunak had to be talked out of resigning on Tuesday to avoid putting pressure on the Prime Minister to do the same.

Mr Sunak spent yesterday in conversation with his aides and allies agonising over whether or not to resign as a result of his partygate fine, The Times reports.

It is thought he believed he could not remain in his post after the fixed penalty notice, issued for attending Boris Johnson's birthday event in the Downing Street cabinet room.

But he was warned his resignation would mean Mr Johnson had to do the same.

Read more: 'People expect better': Boris vows not to quit despite backlash over partygate fine

Read more: 'Deeply offensive': tearful daughter of Covid victim calls for Johnson to go

He was also reportedly told stepping down would damage his chances of becoming Prime Minister after Mr Johnson.

He eventually put out a statement in which he implied he had decided to remain in office - more than seven hours after the fine was announced.

Former Brexit negotiator Lord Frost told LBC this morning that Mr Johnson "deserves to be trusted" by the public, but has said so far the Government's response to partygate is "not good enough".

Speaking to Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Lord Frost said a Fixed Penalty Notice is not "in itself grounds for resignation" but said he was 'concerned' about the fact the Prime Minister appeared to have misled parliament "unknowingly."

It has been a politically tumultuous week for Mr Sunak.

As Chancellor, he was already under immense pressure to tackle the UK's worsening cost of living crisis, with critics slamming his spring budget for not doing enough to support struggling Brits.

Then, last Wednesday, it was revealed that his wife held non-dom status, meaning her permanent home is considered outside of the UK and she does not pay UK tax on foreign income unless it is brought to the UK.

Later, his wife Akshata Murty U-turned and said she would pay tax, and the Chancellor referred himself to parliament's sleaze watchdog in an attempt to clear his name.

Read more: Boris and Rishi say sorry over Partygate fines but insist they won't quit

Read more: PM has 'full confidence' in Sunak as Chancellor refers himself to sleaze watchdog

The Times reported Mr Sunak was angry at being slapped with a fine, saying sources claimed he was not invited to the gathering and only attended because he was going into another meeting with the Prime Minister.

On ally reportedly said Mr Sunak was an "honourable man" and felt "let down by being dragged into" the partygate saga.

The Chancellor had previously told the House of Commons he had not attended any of the lockdown-breaching parties known to have taken place in Downing Street.

The Prime Minister was also hit with a fine as part of the Metropolitan Police's investigation into the parties, called Operation Hillman.

He too has rejected calls to resign, offering a "full apology" but saying the best thing he can do now is "focus on the job in hand".

He claimed it "did not occur" to him the gathering was against the rules.

Read more: Sunak fights for job after referring himself to sleaze watchdog over wife's tax affairs

Read more: 'HMRC could look into Rishi Sunak's wife's finances' policing minister tells LBC

A poll of 2,464 adults by YouGov has revealed 57% of responders think Boris Johnson should resign as Prime Minister, while 30% say he should stay.

The same proportion said Rishi Sunak should resign.

Mr Johnson's wife Carrie was also fined.