SHOCK! Horror! It was a parliamentary event so unusual that no one quite knew what to do. Labour was lost for words, as was the Speaker. No one does this kind of thing any more, do they? Resign when things go pear-shaped?

Such was the bewildered reaction to the resignation on Monday of the Treasury Minister Lord Agnew of Oulton over the Covid loans scandal. A suitable moral example, perhaps, for those who believe Boris Johnson should fall on his sword now that he is under criminal investigation.

No one had accused Lord Agnew of impropriety or negligence, still less breaking the law. The minister said he could not bear to remain in government after the Treasury had apparently written off over nearly £5 billion in fraudulent loan payments, equivalent to around one penny on income tax.

It is, if anyone, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, who's ultimately responsible for writing off a sum in fraudulent payments not far short of the Universal Credit uprating that he scrapped in October. Actually, the total losses in Covid loans could be £20bn, according to Government estimates, of which £17bn would be lost on bounce back loans.

Lord Agnew simply could not “in conscience” stand idly by while the Government machine behaved, as he put it, with “a combination of arrogance, indolence and ignorance”. It happened on his watch. Honour, not the Government or the press, demanded his resignation.

Embarrassing, of course, but resignation can be useful for a government in trouble. It draws a line, gives closure. Allows everyone to move on. Boris Johnson thanked Lord Agnew for his service, not appreciating the irony. His Number 10 machine could similarly be accused of arrogance, indolence and ignorance of the law.

Read more: Bring your own booze to Johnson's farewell party

The decision by Cressida Dick, the boss of the Metropolitan Police, to reverse her previous decision not to investigate retrospective breaches of lockdown is hugely important. It means the police now regard the evidence of lawbreaking in Number 10 as compelling. Partygate appears to represent, in her words, “the most serious and flagrant type of breach”. The people who make the law are not above the law.

These latest developments came the day after Mr Johnson's bete noir, Dominic Cummings, gave “sworn” evidence to Sue Gray, the senior civil servant who is investigating the Number 10 parties. He said Mr Johnson knew about the parties and “lied”. Mr Johnson's former senior adviser has repeatedly posted on his blog tales about Number 10 parties. It was material relayed to the police from Ms Gray’s investigation that appears to have forced the Met to act.

The latest revelation about Mr Johnson having a birthday party in June 2020 now places the PM's wife, Carrie Symonds, “Princess Nut Nut”, firmly in the dock. She is alleged to have organised the bash and is also, presumably, under police investigation. The usual suspects were there too. Martin Reynolds, the Principal Private Secretary, who had organised the May 20 “bring your own bottle party”. He was accompanied by assorted members of the Number 10 staff, many possibly nursing hangovers from earlier boozy events.

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, also reportedly popped his head in. That means he could now go if the PM does. Also around was lively Lulu Lyttle, the eccentric designer responsible for the opulent redecoration of the PM's flat. No doubt she had rolls of gold wallpaper under her arms.

The defence so far from Government loyalists is that this wasn't a party and that anyway Mr Johnson only attended for 10 minutes. I'm not sure the duration actually makes any difference, but that seems to be part of the case for the PM. He was presented with a cake which had been commissioned by Carrie Symonds. The cake was presumably consumed. Nothing to see here.

Read more: How Boris Johnson's replacement will be worse

All who attended – apart from Ms Lyttle, who was presumably on decorating duty – are said to have been essential workers in Number 10. Under the lockdown rules they were permitted to hold meetings for work purposes. There is nothing in the rules that actually says they can't consume cake at work events. However, this would be stretching the definition or “work” to breaking point .

The case against the Prime Minister, and the one the police are now investigating, is that they were obviously not working, but partying in an unlawful gathering. The PM's birthday event could not be excused under the lockdown laws as they stood at the time – confusing and contradictory as they may have been.

The killer fact is that ordinary folk having such “meetings” have repeatedly been prosecuted for breaking the law. I hesitate to refer, once again, to the case of 82-year-old Maureen Hogg from Eaglesham, but she was reportedly arrested and fined for attending a birthday party for an elderly friend. There are many other cases, but you really only need one.

The police did break up many gatherings of students, demonstrators and party people. More than 100,000 have received statutory notices for breaking the rules on lockdown gatherings. The Met has desperately tried to avoid getting involved in Partygate, but after Ms Gray handed them the latest bombshell, its own credibility was under question.


Boris Johnson with Cressida Dick

Boris Johnson with Cressida Dick


How could it behave in such a heavy-handed way towards ordinary people and not apply the same standards to staff in Number 10? Dame Cressida is said to have received significant evidence from the police constables who guard Number 10. Perhaps they're miffed that they weren't invited. Or perhaps they were, which is even worse.

We're told that Ms Gray is a meticulous follower of the rules but also a player in the civil service career game. It looks as if she decided that her material was too hot to handle, and hastily sent it on to the police. It takes her out of the firing line, for now.

It may seem incredible that, with war on the horizon in Europe, the UK Prime Minister could be about to resign over a party. But given Mr Johnson's colourful brand image, it might be rather fitting. It’s always said the Prime Minister likes to have his cake and eat it. This looks like a cake too far.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald