British PM apologises after fine for lockdown birthday bash


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologised but defied calls to resign on Tuesday after being fined for breaking coronavirus lockdown rules by attending a gathering in his office to celebrate his birthday.

Johnson said people had the right to expect better after he, his wife, and his finance minister Rishi Sunak were fined for breaching laws his government brought in to curb COVID-19.

"It didn't occur to me that, as I say, that I was in breach of the rules. I now humbly accept that I was," Johnson said. "I think the best thing I can do now is, having settled the fine, is focus on the job and that's what I'm going to do."

Police have been investigating 12 gatherings at Johnson's Downing Street office and the Cabinet Office after a damning internal inquiry found his staff had enjoyed unauthorised alcohol-fuelled parties. 

Johnson said he had attended some of the events, held when social mixing was all but banned, but he has always denied knowingly committing any wrongdoing.

Sunak offered an "unreserved apology" for breaking the rules at the same birthday gathering, adding that he respected the decision and had paid the fine.

"I deeply regret the frustration and anger caused and I am sorry," he said in a statement.

Tuesday's fines, three of more than 50 police said they would issue, related to a Downing Street gathering to mark Johnson's56th birthday on June 19, 2020, an event which Johnson said lasted no more than 10 minutes.

"I understand the anger that many will feel that I, myself, fell short, when it came to observing the very rules which the government I lead had introduced to protect the public," he said in a televised interview from his country residence Chequers.

It is believed to be the first time a British leader has been found to have broken the law while in office.

Johnson swept to power in 2019 on a promise to complete Britain's exit from the European Union, but his premiership has suffered a series of controversies and missteps in recent months.

Revelations about Downing Street parties provoked resignation calls from lawmakers in his own Conservative Party earlier this year. However, that pressure has abated with the war in Ukraine in which he has sought to play a leading role in the West's response.

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