Johnson and Sunak should retain Covid convictions, says Starmer

<span>Boris Johnson, the then prime minister, with Rishi Sunak, his chancellor, in 10 Downing Street on Johnson’s birthday in June 2020.</span><span>Photograph: Sue Gray Report/Cabinet Office/PA</span>
Boris Johnson, the then prime minister, with Rishi Sunak, his chancellor, in 10 Downing Street on Johnson’s birthday in June 2020.Photograph: Sue Gray Report/Cabinet Office/PA

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak should not have their convictions removed for breaking Covid rules, Keir Starmer has said, amid calls from Conservative former cabinet ministers to nullify criminal convictions for Covid rule-breakers.

Starmer said they should not have their convictions removed, though ex-ministers have made the case that 28,000 people who were given the convictions should have their slates wiped clean.

The Labour leader said it was wrong for that to apply to the then prime minister and chancellor, who were fined amid the Partygate investigation when they attended a birthday gathering for Johnson.

Starmer said: “Seriously, they want Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak’s convictions to be removed? Some great amnesty? Come on.

“Many, many people paid a very high price in that pandemic. They don’t understand how deep that goes. The now prime minister and his predecessor but one are convicted of breaking the rules that they put in place and if they don’t understand how deep that goes it just reinforces how out of touch they are.”

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Robert Buckland, who was justice secretary during the pandemic, said it was unfair the convictions could bar people from jobs such as teaching, social work or police roles, especially given how young many offenders were.

Guardian research last year found there had been more than 28,000 convictions for Covid-related offences, such as attendance at gatherings during lockdowns or arriving at airports without the proper evidence of a coronavirus test. Almost 16,000 of the convictions – or 55% – involved people under 30.

Buckland told the Telegraph it was “not proportionate or necessary at a time when we want to encourage and support as many people back to work as possible”, adding: “I would wipe the slate clean.”

David Davis, another former cabinet minister, told the newspaper he believed also there should be an amnesty. “Much of the Covid regulation was heavy-handed, unnecessary and penalised people wrongly. For this to turn into a lifetime penalty is a shameful disgrace and we should correct it as soon as possible.”

The average fine issued in magistrates courts in 2022 was £6,000, although some people have been fined as much as £10,000.

Nearly 125,000 fixed-penalty notices were issued in England and Wales during the pandemic, ranging from £50, such as that received by Johnson for attending a party with 30 people while he was prime minister, to fines of £10,000 given to others for similar offences. Those that were paid went no further.