Former UK ethics chief apologises after fine for breaking curb rules

Labour leader claims Johnson misled public and presided over widespread criminality

The British government’s former ethics chief has apologised after she received a fine for breaking coronavirus lockdown rules by attending a party at the Cabinet Office two years ago. Helen MacNamara, who left government in February last year, was one of 20 people who have been fined in connection with a series of gatherings in Downing Street and Whitehall during lockdown.

“I am sorry for the error of judgment I have shown. I have accepted and paid the fixed penalty notice,” she said.

The Metropolitan Police said last week that they are continuing to investigate a number of gatherings at 10 Downing Street and further fines are expected. Boris Johnson's official spokesman said the prime minister had not yet been fined or interviewed by police but Downing Street has made clear it will not identify those who are fined unless they include Mr Johnson or cabinet secretary Simon Case.

‘Left in dark’

Labour leader Keir Starmer accused the government of taking the public for fools and called for all senior officials fined for attending the parties to be identified.

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“I think it is very important that the prime minister makes sure that all those who are given fines, certainly in senior positions, are named,” he said.

“We seem to be going through this process where, instant by instant, fines are coming out but the public are being left in the dark. The public complied with the rules. They are entitled to know who didn’t comply with the rules and what is going on.”

The prime minister told parliament a number of times that no rules were broken in Downing Street during the coronavirus lockdowns. His spokesman declined to say if Mr Johnson now accepts that the rules were broken, in view of the 20 fines already issued. Sir Keir said the prime minister had misled the public and was unfit for office.

‘Unfit for office’

“It is absolutely important that the prime minister is honest and accountable to parliament. I shouldn’t have to say that. That has been a principle for a very long time. The idea that we are even debating whether it is all right for the prime minister to have lied about this shows just how far the standards have sunk under this prime minister,” he said.

“He needs to come to parliament to be held to account. He has not only misled the public about this, he has presided over widespread criminality in his home and his office and that is why I am convinced he is unfit for office.”

Deliberately misleading parliament is by convention a resigning offence but Welsh secretary Simon Hart said on Monday that Mr Johnson should remain in office even if he is fined for breaking the law during lockdown.

“I trust the views of the people who elected me in saying that look, put this problem right, make sure you apologise, you acted inappropriately at the time, but the idea that every politician or indeed every journalist for that matter who makes a misjudgment along the way should automatically be sacked is not something I subscribe to,” he told Sky News.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times