Thank you for writing to me about the Prime Minister’s fine for attending a gathering at Downing Street during the Covid period. I have received a large number of emails on the topic and I hope you will understand if I don’t provide a bespoke reply to each one; there simply isn’t enough time to do this, and I thought better to write back quickly with a general response.
Many people have written explaining the sacrifices they were forced to make during Covid, including the deeply painful experience of being separated from their loved ones as they died. Many others make the simple strong point that the most fundamental duty of leaders in a law-governed society is to obey the law themselves.
I have every sympathy with these points. However, on the evidence so far, I am afraid I do not agree that the Prime Minister should resign for having received a Fixed Penalty Notice. It appears this fine has been issued because, for a period of less than 10 minutes between meetings, he joined colleagues who had gathered to wish him happy birthday.
Very plainly, as the PM has said, it did not occur to him that this would be regarded as an illegal act; very obviously, if he had thought it was illegal, he would not have done it. I invite you to consider whether his love of birthday cake and felicitations would have caused him to deliberately break the law, in the goldfish bowl that is Downing Street where nothing stays secret (indeed the gathering was reported innocently in The Times the next day, without anyone objecting at the time). He clearly believed no rules were broken, which is why he did not ‘lie to Parliament’ in saying so.
This was an innocent mistake, a difference of interpretation between No 10 and the police over rules which were always difficult to understand and enforce. The PM has apologised for inadvertently breaking the law and paid his fine.
I have always said we need to understand the facts of what happened before leaping to judgement. On the basis of these facts I believe the PM is right to resist calls for his resignation. I recognise that this will probably disappoint (if not necessarily surprise) you. I am particularly sorry if you are one of the people who has formerly backed the PM and my party, and can do so no longer. If you’re someone who always despised him and us, I am sorry too.
Thank you again for writing. I may not be able to respond to all replies to this email.