A Conservative MP was mocked by the BBC Question Time audience on Thursday when she attempted to defend Boris Johnson over partygate.
The string of parties held in Downing Street throughout lockdown has enraged the public ever since it was first reported late last year.
Now the Metropolitan Police have confirmed they have issued their first wave of fines – 20 fixed penalty notices – for people linked to the rule-breaking parties.
This has renewed calls for the prime minister to be punished over breaching the social distancing laws, too.
On BBC Question Time on Thursday, Tory MP for Lewes, Maria Caulfield, jumped to Johnson’s defense after a member of the audience suggested he only apologised, for the parties “because he was found out”.
Caulfield replied: “He has held his hands up to say there were wrongdoings, he’s apologised for that, he’s made changes.”
“The lady is suggesting that’s because he was found out,” host Victoria Derbyshire clarified.
Caulfield said: “He genuinely did not believe that there was wrongdoing at the time.”
The audience then broke out into laughter, with a few people even sarcastically applauding while others shook their heads.
Caulfield ignored the reaction and continued: “What we’ve said is that we will wait for the Sue Gray report, we don’t know the identity of the people who have got fixed penalty notices – he isn’t one of those people that has had a fixed penalty notice.”
“When people laugh when you say, ‘he didn’t believe he was at a party’ what does that make you think?” Derbyshire cut in. “I’m asking you about their response.”
“As I’ve said, I fully understand the anger and frustration,” Caulfield replied.
But, as Derbyshire pointed out: “That was laughter, that was ridicule – they don’t believe him.”
The MP just pointed out that the prime minister has said he will reveal if he is given a fixed penalty notice over partygate, and so far he has not.
Caulfield also claimed that as someone who worked on the NHS wards as a nurse during the pandemic, she understood the fury felt by the public: “No one is more angry about events that took place in No.10.”
Shadow justice secretary and Labor MP, Steve Reed, was on the panel with Caulfield and seemed to extend his sympathies to her as he said: “It’s really sad to see Tory MPs like Maria wheeled out to defend the indefensible on this.”
The row comes as the government appears in two minds about its approach to partygate after the Met confirmed it was issuing fixed penalty notices.
International trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan claimed this week that people who had been handed the fines had “broken the regulations that were set in the Covid Act”.
The day before, justice secretary and deputy prime minister Dominic Raab said he believed those who had been fined had broken the law.
However, No.10’s official spokesman has not acknowledged that any Covid laws were breached by the government during partygate.
When asked by MPs on Wednesday if the fines meant “criminality” had occurred, 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 that I apologise for
“But there is an ongoing investigation…I am going to camp pretty firmly on my position.”