Latest No 10 lockdown party fines are a non-story, says Jacob Rees-Mogg

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Watch: Partygate fines a ‘non-story’ - Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg

The latest round of fines for Covid rule-breaking in Downing Street is a "non-story", Jacob Rees-Mogg has said.

Police announced on Thursday that they had issued more than 50 Fixed Penalty Notices over parties and gatherings that took place during lockdown, taking the total to more than 100.

Labour has accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of presiding over "industrial scale" rule-breaking.

But Mr Rees-Mogg suggested Covid rules had been "too restrictive".

Asked on BBC Breakfast about the latest fines, the Brexit opportunities and government efficiency minister said: "I'm afraid I think this is a non-story.

"I mean, the BBC has absolutely loved it, but what is important is that we get on with the business of government."

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."

The Metropolitan Police are investigating 12 gatherings that took place in No 10 and on other government premises during lockdown.

The latest batch of £50 fines is understood to relate to a Christmas party on 18 December 2020.

This event was not attended by the prime minister, who himself received a fine last month in relation to a surprise birthday party held for him in June 2020, over which his wife Carrie Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were also penalised.

The Met's investigation is ongoing, while senior civil servant Sue Gray and the House of Commons privileges committee are carrying out separate inquiries.

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Labour's leader and deputy leader are currently under investigation by Durham police

The government, of which Mr Rees-Mogg was a member, brought in its first lockdown for England in March 2020, keeping varying levels of Covid restrictions in place until February this year.

Across the UK, more than 176,000 people have died within 28 days of a positive Covid test since the pandemic began.

Questioned over the impact on bereaved families of finding out that ministers and officials had broken the rules, Mr Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP for North East Somerset, said: "I think people were upset.

"I think this was an important story in February, when it first became known, and that there was a great concern and there was a feeling of people who were bereaved."

He added that people "made their judgement on" rule-breaking in Downing Street it and "there are other things that are going on that are more important".

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Meanwhile, Conservative Party co-chairman Oliver Dowden has distanced himself from the brochure description of a bottle of Champagne - signed by the prime minister - that he donated for sale at a charity auction.

The item was billed by organisers of a Harry Potter-themed night in aid of the Hertfordshire Community Foundation (HCF) as "a souvenir of Partygate and the exemplary behaviour and morality of our dear leader".

Mr Dowden's spokesperson said: "This item was donated in good faith several months ago for a local charity auction.

"Oliver Dowden had no prior knowledge of the description and this is obviously not his view."

The HCF apologised for "any offence caused", saying: "The description was not drafted or seen by MP Oliver Dowden."

Shabana Mahmood, Labour's national campaign coordinator, said: "I find it hard to believe that the Tory party chairman is unaware of things leaving his office bearing his name.

"The industrial scale of rule-breaking in Downing Street is important no matter how much ministers dismiss it."

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said law-breaking had been allowed on a "shocking scale".

Labour's Sir Keir and his deputy Angela Rayner are under investigation by Durham police over drinks that took place in City of Durham MP Mary Foy's constituency office in April last year.

Sir Keir has denied any rule-breaking and has promised to resign if police find otherwise, as has Ms Rayner.