Boris Johnson should not resign if the police find he broke COVID rules, a minister said as Mr Johnson refused to say anything about the partygate scandal.
Downing Street confirmed on Friday night the PM had returned a Met Police questionnaire about Downing Street gatherings while COVID restrictions were in place.
Mr Johnson has faced calls to resign if the police find he broke lockdown rules and issue him with a fixed penalty notice.
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James Cleverley said he does not think the PM should resign if he gets a police fine
But James Cleverly, Europe minister, told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “I don’t think what the country needs at the moment is a vacuum at the centre of government when we are dealing with our recovery from COVID, the accumulation of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border, making sure that the health service is able to deal with the sad but, the unfortunate but nevertheless obvious backlog that has been created by COVID.
“That’s what the country needs and that’s what I believe the prime minister should be doing.”
Asked if that could be taken as Mr Johnson should not resign if he gets a fine, Mr Cleverly said: “That is exactly how you should be taking it.”
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The questionnaire has been sent to about 50 people believed to have been at the alleged parties and asks them for their account and an explanation of their participation.
Scotland Yard said the questionnaire has formal legal status and must be answered truthfully.
Downing Street previously said Mr Johnson’s responses will not be made public.
With regards to resigning if he is found to have broken COVID rules, the PM said on Sunday he “can’t comment about a process that is underway”.
Mr Johnson has previously said the events were work gatherings in Downing Street, where he also lives.
He has continually refused to answer questions about whether he would resign, firstly saying the inquiry by top civil servant Sue Gray had to be completed before he could comment.
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‘Not a bean I can tell you’
The day before that inquiry’s findings were released, the Met Police announced it was investigating some of the events – so the PM said he could not comment until that had been concluded.
Asked by the BBC on Sunday if he could understand doubts about his explanations of gatherings held at No 10, the PM said: “There is simply not a bean I can tell you about that.”
On the police investigation and criticism from his own MPs, Mr Johnson added: “I am fortunate to live in a democracy.
“I am fortunate to be the PM of a free independent democratic country where people can take that sort of decision, and where I do face that sort of pressure, that’s a wonderful thing.”
The Met Police are investigating 12 events allegedly attended by MPs and staff during lockdown, including as many as six the PM is reported to have attended.