The Prime Minister’s apology over partygate and his refusal to quit prompted a mixed response from the press, as it emerged that Boris Johnson was the first leader to be hit with criminal sanctions while in office.
The PM, his wife Carrie and the Chancellor all apologised on Tuesday and confirmed they had paid fines imposed by the Metropolitan Police over a party held on June 19 2020 to mark Mr Johnson’s 56th birthday.
Speaking to broadcasters at Chequers, Mr Johnson said it “did not occur” to him that the gathering might be breaching Covid rules, while Rishi Sunak said he understood that “for figures in public office, the rules must be applied stringently in order to maintain public confidence”.
While the papers all reported on both Mr Johnson and the Chancellor’s law breaking, their coverage also acknowledged that even Conservative Party critics had leant the pair their support.
In light of both the cost-of-living crisis and the war in Ukraine, the Daily Telegraph wrote that Mr Johnson “appeared to have weathered the initial storm as three leading MPs who had previously called for his resignation said now was not the right time to remove him”.
However, the paper added, senior Tories have warned that Mr Johnson still faced questions over whether he misled the Commons when he denied there was any rule-breaking in No 10.
Similarly, The Guardian said the PM’s position “remains in peril” as further lockdown-busting parties could still emerge in the weeks to come as the police continue their investigation.
The Daily Mail appeared to defend the embattled PM, criticising “the Left” as it “howls for resignations”, with its front page reading: “Don’t they know there’s a war on?”.
The tabloid reports that Mr Johnson attended the birthday gathering for nine minutes and that his birthday cake “never left its Tupperware box”.
The Daily Mirror takes a less sympathetic approach to the scandal, declaring “Led by liars & lawbreakers” on its front page. The paper goes on to say that the Tory leader “refused to resign even though millions of Brits had stuck to the rules” during Covid.
It adds that the Met Police “shattered the fragile peace the PM had struck with his own backbenchers when it announced 30 more fines had been issued” on Tuesday, taking the total to 50.
The Independent notes that while a number of senior Tories rushed to the PM’s defence on Tuesday evening, this didn’t happen until Mr Johnson issued his televised statement of apology from his countryside retreat. Then a “rash of Cabinet ministers” released “apparently co-ordinated tweets insisting that he should be allowed to get on with his job”.
Other papers focus on Mr Johnson’s apology itself.
The Sun appears to emphasise the PM and Chancellor’s remorse over the rule-breaking at No 10, with the paper claiming that unnamed “pals” of Mr Sunak had to talk him out of quitting.
The Times similarly carries a report from an unnamed source that the Chancellor “was on the brink of quitting in the hours after he received notice of the fine”. After more than seven hours of public silence, he instead made an “unreserved apology” and said that he was “focused on delivering for the British people”.
The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign group is quoted in The Times calling Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak “truly shameless” and calling for their resignation.
Several papers including i and The Times refer a YouGov poll conducted yesterday which said 57% of British adults believed the pair should quit while 75% say that the PM lied.
The Daily Express also carries the PM’s apology on its front, adding that the calls for Mr Johnson to resign continue to come from members of the Opposition rather than his Tory colleagues.
While Metro reports that 50 people have now received fixed penalty notices and dubs the saga “Partygate Shame”. It adds: “The lockdown-busting events and countless denials that they took place has sparked huge public anger in recent months, with people furious that those who made the rules did not obey them and then lied about it”.
The Daily Star does not pull any punches in its coverage of the scandal, depicting Mr Sunak and Mr Johnson as Pinocchio on its front page.