A Tory minister been branded "desperate" after comparing Boris Johnson breaking COVID-19 laws to getting a parking fine.
The prime minister is preparing to address the House of Commons for the first time since receiving a fixed penalty notice for attending a birthday party in the Cabinet Office during lockdown.
Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis denied Johnson had lied to Parliament, despite the PM repeatedly insisting no rules were broken in Downing Street during restrictions.
Lewis told Sky News: “I think we do see consistently, whether it is through parking fines or speeding fines, ministers of both parties over the years have been in that position.
“We’ve had prime ministers in the past who have received penalty notices, from what I can see, and also front bench ministers.
“I saw there was a parking notice that Tony Blair had once. We’ve seen front bench Labour ministers and, let’s be frank, government ministers as well.”
He added: “You’ve asked me, can someone who sets the laws and the rules, can they also be someone who breaks the rules.
“That clearly has happened with a number of ministers over the years.”
Labour MP Anna McMorrin called the comments "a desperate and degrading attempt to defend the indefensible."
She tweeted: "While families lost loved ones, the prime minister partied, lied and then got caught.
"This government truly is rotten to its core."
Former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: "Blimey. You can see his self respect visibly evaporate before your very eyes.
"Note to all Tory MPs: if you do anything other than call for the PM’s immediate resignation, you will look as abject and shamed as poor Brandon does here and you won’t live it down."
Lewis appeared to be referring to a tweet by the Guido Fawkes political blogging site which suggested Blair had to pay a congestion fine in 2003.
However, it is not clear whether the former PM ever had to pay any fines.
At the time, Downing Street said Blair had been focussing on the Iraq War and because "he has been busy."
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer rejected Lewis' defence.
He told the Lorraine programme on ITV on Tuesday: “I don’t think you can just say to people ‘oh, just move on’. I also don’t accept this argument that some Conservatives are putting out that it’s a bit like a speeding fine.
“It isn’t like a speeding fine at all. In all of my days I have never had anybody breakdown in front of me because they couldn’t drive at 35 miles an hour in a 30 mile an hour zone.
“I have had no end of people in tears, in real bits, about complying with rules that really, really hurt them.”
Lewis also defended Johnson against claims he has repeatedly lied to parliament in breach of the ministerial code.
He said: “At every point he has been clear with what he believes to be the truth.
“What he also accepts is that the police have looked into this particular issue and taken a view that a fine should be issued – he accepts that, he has paid that fine, he has apologised for that.”
Asked whether Johnson accepts that he broke the rules, Lewis replied: “In the sense that he has paid a fine that the police have decided to issue because the rules were broken.
“But that doesn’t mean that anything he said to Parliament was inaccurate at the time. What he said to Parliament he believed to be true at the time.”
Political sources have claimed the PM still refuses to accept he technically broke the rules - despite paying the £50 fine.
Johnson was also accused over the weekend of not only attending a leaving party for his former communications chief Lee Cain on 13 November 2020, but instigating the event.
Downing Street declined to comment.
The Times reported that Johnson will focus on Ukraine, the cost-of-living crisis, and a trip to India which will focus on defence and trade.