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ETHICS CHIEF FINED:

In the story that perhaps sums up the Partygate scandal best so far, the government’s former head of propriety and ethics Helen McNamara has been fined by the police for attending a lockdown-breaking party in the Cabinet Secretary’s Office at 70 Whitehall. The Telegraph’s Martin Evans, Ben Riley-Smith and Tony Diver got the scoop, reporting that McNamara’s karaoke machine was used at a “raucous” bash on June 18, 2020, and she’s been given a £50 fine. The paper reports: “Among those in attendance during the early part of the evening were Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s former senior adviser and Sir Mark Sedwill, the former Cabinet Secretary — who before leaving warned partygoers not to mess up his office.” McNamara left government last year and now works on corporate affairs at the Premier League.

Politico London Newsletter

Fines issued over Downing Street party the night before Philip’s funeral

The apparent confirmation that Covid laws were broken inside No 10 will lead to further questions over whether Johnson misled parliament about the dozen parties under investigation.

He told Keir Starmer during prime minister’s questions on 1 December 2021: “What I can tell the right honourable and learned gentleman is that all guidance was followed completely in No 10.”

Aubrey Allegretti www.theguardian.com 

Downing Street staff have been issued with fines by police over a party that took place the night before Prince Philip’s funeral, in the first decision by Scotland Yard that Covid laws were broken inside No 10 at the heart of government.

After the Guardian revealed that fixed penalty notices were handed out to those who attended a leaving do for an aide to Boris Johnson in the Cabinet Office in June 2020, sources said those who partied into the early hours in No 10 on 16 April 2021 had also been warned they would receive fines.

The event caused consternation due to the contrast between it and the Queen’s strict adherence to social distancing rules by sitting alone at the funeral of her husband of 73 years.

Meanwhile, Downing Street staff were said to have got so drunk that they broke the swing used by the prime minister’s son, Wilf, in the No 10 garden, while a staff member was sent out to a local supermarket to pack a suitcase full of wine and another acted as a DJ.

Two parties took place that evening – one to mark the departure of Johnson’s director of communications, James Slack, and another for one of Johnson’s personal photographers.

At the time, England was in step two of the strict roadmap out of lockdown, meaning all indoor mixing was banned.

Many of those who partied in No 10 on 16 April were sent questionnaires by the Met asking them to provide a reasonable excuse for their attendance.

But in an email, the Operation Hillman team investigating the string of lockdown-busting events told some of them that it had been “assessed that there are reasonable grounds to believe that you committed an offence in contravention of the regulations”.

The notification, which was received by some late last week, added: “In light of this, you are to be reported for the issuance of a fixed penalty notice (FPN), offering you the opportunity of discharging any liability to conviction for the offence by payment of a fixed penalty.”

The Met said further correspondence confirming the details of the fine would be sent by ACRO – the criminal records issuing office.

Downing Street declined to comment. No 10 apologised to the Queen in January after details of the parties were reported.

The apparent confirmation that Covid laws were broken inside No 10 will lead to further questions over whether Johnson misled parliament about the dozen parties under investigation.

He told Keir Starmer during prime minister’s questions on 1 December 2021: “What I can tell the right honourable and learned gentleman is that all guidance was followed completely in No 10.”

Meanwhile it also emerged that Helen MacNamara, the Cabinet Office’s then head of ethics, had attended the June 2020 leaving do for No 10 aide Hannah Young. It is understood she supplied a karaoke machine that was used at the gathering by revellers until the early hours.

Three sources also told the Guardian there was a drunken brawl at the event, held in the office of Mark Sedwill, who was cabinet secretary at the time. The Telegraph reported that MacNamara had been fined, while ITV said Johnson would not be interviewed by the police.

Scotland Yard said it would not confirm which events fines had been issued for, or the identity of anyone who received a fixed-penalty notice.

A spokesperson for the Met told the Guardian: “Unlike other incidents of Covid regulation breaches, the investigation under Operation Hillman remains ongoing, and as such we are not releasing further information at this time.

“At its conclusion, we will review what information can be released whilst still working to the NPCC [National Police Chiefs’ Council] principle of not releasing information that will lead to any individual being identified.”

Daisy Cooper, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the revelation that fines were to be issued for the 16 April 2021 event “confirms what the British public have known all along” – that Johnson was “a liar and must resign”.

She told the Guardian: “The emotional images of the Queen sitting alone at her husband’s funeral were the hallmark of the British spirit through the pandemic.

“Boris Johnson’s Downing Street didn’t show an ounce of respect for this country. There can be no more cover-ups and no more lies. For the good of the country, and for all those who lost loved ones during the pandemic, he must go.”

It is believed the fines handed out to those who attended the 16 April 2021 party were among the initial tranche of 20 announced by the Met on Tuesday.

The only two people No 10 have committed to identifying if they are fined is Johnson and the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, who had to be recused from leading the internal Whitehall partygate investigation after it was discovered a gathering was held by his team in December 2020.

A Labour frontbencher on Sunday called for everyone fined to be publicly named.

Jonathan Reynolds, the shadow business secretary, told Sky News that anyone who is issued with a fine – including the prime minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson – should have their identify made public.

“I think anyone who’s been in Downing Street should be named if they have been part of this.

“Because there’s been so much dishonesty, so much obfuscation from the people at the top in Downing Street, from the prime minister and his immediate circle downwards, I think people just want to know what really went on. Let’s have some transparency, let’s have some honesty.”

Is it just Owl…

… that thinks of Delores Umbridge (from Harry Potter) when they see Priti Patel?

Priti Patel furious Ukrainian visa scheme chaos

Furious Priti Patel is said to have ‘torn strips’ off her civil servants over the slow progress of the visa scheme for Ukrainian refugees hoping to come to the UK. Relations between the Home Secretary …

Read more in the Daily Mail

Cummings accuses PM of encouraging attacks on junior staff over No 10 parties

Dominic Cummings has accused Boris Johnson of encouraging attacks on junior civil servants over the “partygate” scandal in order to protect himself and his wife, Carrie.

Throwing them under the Boris bus – Owl

Harry Taylor www.theguardian.com 

The prime minister’s onetime senior aide said senior officials had “turned a blind eye” to his behaviour. He referred to briefing against one No 10 private secretary, Hannah Young. It has emerged that her leaving party on 18 June led to the first fines announced this week.

Reports after some of the parties involving civil servants included a staff member breaking a swing in the garden belonging to the Johnsons’ son Wilfred, a suitcase of alcohol being purchased from a nearby Co-op and one staff member acting as a DJ.

A total of 20 fixed-penalty notices have been issued to staff who broke lockdown rules. Johnson had previously told parliament when the allegations first came to light in November 2021 that “all guidance was followed completely in No 10”.

In his latest blog, with an excerpt posted on Twitter, Cummings said: “It is deeply, deeply contemptible that not just the PM but senior civil servants have allowed such people to have their reputations attacked in order to protect the sociopathic narcissist squatting in the No 10 flat.

“Not just ‘allowed’ – everybody at the centre of events also knows that the PM encouraged the media attacks on junior officials in order to divert the lobby’s attention from him and Carrie breaking the law. Some very senior officials have turned a blind eye.”

Carrie is reported to have had parties in their Downing Street flat, while Boris had a surprise birthday party in 2020 attended by up to 30 staff, as well as the couple’s interior designer, Lulu Lytle.

Young “did a truly phenomenal job”, and “made us all safer” during Covid and while coordinating a response to a terrorist incident, Cummings said.

On Friday officials in Downing Street started to get emails saying they were being fined £50 for attending parties, days after the Metropolitan police confirmed they were handing out the notices.

Detectives are investigating 12 events in 2020 and 2021, six of which Johnson is said to have been at. The Met has said it has received more than 300 photographs and 500 pages of documents after a Whitehall inquiry by senior civil servant Sue Gray.

In an appearance before a parliamentary select committee and in statements from his spokesperson after the fines this week, Johnson refused to accept that the law had been broken.

In response to a question from the Scottish National party MP Pete Wishart during his Commons liaison committee session, Johnson said: “I have been, I hope, very frank with the House about where I think we have gone wrong and the things that I regret, and I apologise for, but there is an ongoing investigation.

“I understand the point you’re making, but … I have been very clear I won’t give running commentary on an ongoing investigation.”

Cummings also criticised fines for junior officials over Johnson’s then principal private secretary Martin Reynolds, despite having organised and attended a party in the cabinet secretary’s office. “Over the last few days, many junior officials have been fined for attending an event that the PM’s PPS organised.

“The PPS … was responsible for ensuring that events in No 10 were consistent not just with the rules but with basic ethical standards.”

No 10 has been approached for comment.

Neil and Simon, did you laugh at his jokes?

Neil Parish and Simon Jupp, Owl would like to know, for the record, your answers to  these three simple questions:

  1. Did either of you attend the widely reported “champagne bash” dinner party at the Park Plaza Hotel near Westminster Bridge, hosted by Boris Johnson for Conservative MPs last Tuesday, 29 March?
  2. On your way did you have to pass a protesting group of bereaved families of Covid casualties who shouted “shame on you” and “off to another party, are we?”
  3. If you did attend the bash, did you laugh at his extensive and tasteless “partygate” jokes? One senior Tory present at the dinner is reported as saying: “The number of jokes Boris devoted to partygate showed that he is either monumentally insensitive or monumentally self-confident.” (or both)

Boris Johnson contemplates resigning 

After months of pulling the wool over our eyes, will the prime minister do the decent thing?