Police issuing more than 100 partygate fines is ‘non-story’, minister says
Jacob Rees-Mogg has dismissed the number of fines for the No 10 parties hitting the 100 mark as “a non-story”, claiming people no longer care about it.
“There are other things going on that are more important,” the Cabinet Office minister said.
Although the prime minister has escaped further fines so far, the investigation “remains live”, indicating that more punishments are still highly likely.
But Mr Rees-Mogg, announcing civil service job cuts, suggested the public had moved on from the scandal, which was “an important story in February, when it first became known”.
“I really don’t think this is the issue of the moment and everyone talks about it. What is important that we get on with the business of government,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“This is a non-story,” he said, adding: “It was a story in February and people now know about it and have made their judgements on it. And there are other things going on that are more important.”
Told that bereaved families were “devastated” that they had observed the rules imposed by the government while those in power were breaking them, Mr Rees-Mogg replied: “I think people were upset.”
But he added: “We need to look at whether these rules were right in the first place in case we have a pandemic again because I think they were too restrictive.”.
However, the example the minister gave of the laws being too harsh was the inability of people to give “comfort for the dying”, after loved ones were barred from hospitals.
The Partygate investigation centres on whether rules forbidding social gatherings, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, were breached.
Any immediate threat to Mr Johnson’s position has eased – despite the Conservatives’ mauling in the local elections – raising the hopes of his supporters that the danger has passed.
However, many Tory MPs are waiting to see whether he receives more police fines and for the verdict of Sue Gray’s final Cabinet Office into the scandal.
The prime minister also failed to block a Commons inquiry into whether he lied to MPs when he wrongly told them no rules were broken – meaning no end to the controversy is in sight.
Mr Rees-Mogg also warned against early tax cuts or spending boosts to ease the cost of living crisis, lifting the lid on cabinet divisions over the issue.
There are no “cheap wins” in trying to stem the fall in living standards, he said – opposing a rush to measures that would “add fuel to the flames”.
“Dealing with a cost of living issue, dealing with inflation, is a longer term rather than a shorter term question,” Mr Rees-Mogg said.
“I am worried about anything that leads to an increase in deficit spending when you have an inflationary problem. That is a risk.”