On 13 April 2022, the justice minister responsible for legal aid, Lord Wolfson QC, wrote to the prime minister, Boris Johnson, to tender his resignation, stating
I am very sorry that the sky has prematurely fallen in on my current ministerial career, but I have concluded that, consistently with both my ministerial and professional obligations to support and uphold the rule of law, I have no option other than to tender my resignation.
His resignation letter described the ‘scale, context and nature’ of the ‘breaches of the criminal law’ during lockdown as ‘inconsistent with the rule of law’. But he went further in outlining his reasons: ‘It is not just a question of what happened in Downing Street, or your own conduct. It is also, and perhaps more so, the official response to what took place.’
Lord Wolfson said it would be wrong for ‘that conduct to pass with constitutional impunity, especially when many in society complied with the rules at great personal cost, and others were fined or prosecuted for similar, and sometimes apparently more trivial, offences.’
The prime minister received a £50 fine from the Metropolitan Police, who had previously appeared reluctant to investigate the birthday party held for him in Downing Street in June 2020.
In a tweet
, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, Steve Reed, praised Lord Wolfson for taking a principled stand, but asked: ‘[W]hat does this mean for lord chancellor @DominicRaab who’s constitutionally charged with upholding the law but is instead condoning law-breaking?’
Johnson is the first prime minister to have received a sanction for breaking the law in office, and he is known to have attended at least two further events being investigated by police, which could mean further fines.
Lord Wolfson is the second justice minister to resign under Johnson’s leadership, after the resignation of Lord Keen QC as advocate general for Scotland in September 2020 over the Internal Market Bill, which the Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, admitted would ‘break international law in a very specific and limited way’.