Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have pledged to stay as prime minister and chancellor, despite both being fined £50 for breaking Covid regulations by attending a birthday party for the PM at Downing Street.
After becoming the first prime minister to be hit with criminal sanctions while in office, Mr Johnson said it “did not occur” to him that the gathering held on June 19, 2020, to mark his 56th birthday might be breaching Covid rules, while Mr Sunak said he understood that “for figures in public office, the rules must be applied stringently in order to maintain public confidence”.
But although both politicians said they now accept the rules had been broken, neither appeared to be considering their positions, as they said they wanted to get on with the job.
The PM’s wife, Carrie Johnson, also confirmed she had been fined.
While opposition parties and those who lost loved ones to Covid have all called for the PM and chancellor to resign, Cabinet ministers have come out in support of Mr Johnson, praising his leadership during Covid and Brexit and also pointing to the war in Ukraine.
Even the prime minister’s critics appeared to accept that now was not the right time for a leadership contest.
Mr Johnson can only be forced from office if 53 Conservative MPs submit letters of no confidence, triggering a secret ballot.
Unless he himself resigns from his role as chancellor, Mr Sunak is unlikely to be forced out by the PM as the pair have both been sanctioned for breaking the rules.
Labour and Lib Dem leaders have renewed their calls for Mr Johnson to resign, as senior Tories have come out in support of their colleagues.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps called the PM’s breach of lockdown restrictions “deeply disappointing” and “wrong” – but said he is “human” and that humans “sometimes make mistakes”.
When asked how it did not occur to the PM that he was breaking lockdown rules, Mr Shapps told BBC Breakfast: “I don’t seek to say anything other than it’s deeply disappointing. Of course, it should have done.”
But he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme that “clearly” the PM “didn’t arrange a surprise for himself”.
“I spoke to the prime minister last night about this. His words: he is embarrassed, he recognises it was stupid and indefensible and he himself is mortified by what happened,” he added.
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the police fines prove they had “broken the law and repeatedly lied to the British public”, adding: “Britain deserves better”.
Labour has joined the chorus of demands for the Commons to be recalled from its two-week Easter break and allow Mr Johnson to “tender his resignation” in person to MPs.
Echoing her leader’s comments, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves said Mr Johnson has lost the “moral authority” needed to govern Britain and that it was “time for new leadership”.
She said the PM and chancellor do not seem to understand how “deeply offensive” their lockdown breaches are.
“He is still obfuscating and saying, oh he still didn’t really realise he was breaking the rules and he just happened to be in this room at the time… It’s just not good enough,” she told BBC Radio 4.
Those who lost loved ones and were unable to be with them as they died, reacted with anger to the news the PM and chancellor had been fined but would not be resigning.
Lindsay Jackson’s mother Sylvia died after catching coronavirus, and she was unable to be with her in her final days.
“There was a time not so long ago when being the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was something great,” Ms Jackson told ITV News.
“It’s an absolute shame and a disgrace and if he had an ounce of moral fibre, which I’m sad to say I don’t think he does, then he would resign.”