Opposition MPs have called for Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson’s resignation after he broke COVID-19 regulations by attending a gathering of 50-60 people on December 23. While several government ministers have expressed disappointment with Bjarni’s actions, none have suggested it warrants the dissolution of the governing coalition.
In the early hours of December 24, media received logs from Reykjavík Capital Area Police describing how officers had broken up a large gathering in downtown Reykjavík the previous night. The gathering was at a public venue and occurred after the mandated closing time of 9.00pm. “Between 40-50 guests were gathered in the hall, and one honoured Minister of the Icelandic cabinet among them,” the log stated. Iceland’s national gathering limit is currently 10 individuals and social distancing of 2 metres is mandatory in most public situations.
Guests Drinking and Kissing
“There was considerable drunkenness at the gathering and most of the guests had alcohol in hand. Police noticed that none of the guests wore face masks. Policemen stated that distancing regulations were barely respected by anyone.” Police then notified the event organisers that the incident would be reported and ordered the guests to leave. “Many guests took leave of each other with hugs and some with kisses. One of the guests was dissatisfied with the police intervention and compared us to Nazis,” the log concluded.
Minister Apologised for Not Leaving Immediately
Though police did not identify which minister was at the gathering, it came to light soon after that it had been Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, who is also Chairman of the Independence Party. In a Facebook post published on the morning of December 24, Bjarni stated that he and his wife were downtown the previous evening and received a call from some friends asking them to stop by the venue in question and say hello. “When we came in and went up into the hall last night I should have realized that there were more people there than rules allow.” Bjarni stated that he had been at the gathering for 15 minutes when police arrived to break it up. “The right response would have been to leave the art gallery immediately as soon as I realised that the crowd was above limits. I did not do that and I sincerely apologise for that mistake,” the Minister concluded in his post.
Á heimleið úr miðborginni í gærkvöldi fengum við Þóra símtal frá vinahjónum, sem voru stödd á listasafninu í…
Several government ministers have responded to the incident. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated that Bjarni’s attendance of the event damaged trust in the government, but did not call for his resignation. Transport Minister and Progressive Party Chairman Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson called the incident “unfortunate,” and stated that it did not set a good example, but added that it would not affect co-operation in the three-party coalition government.
The Chief Epidemiologist also responded to the incident, saying: “It is just very bad when the nation’s leaders don’t follow these rules,” adding that it was “a shame” that the incident had happened.
While opposition MPs and others outside of Parliament have called for Bjarni to resign, Political Scientist Eiríkur Bergmann believes such a move to be unlikely. Eiríkur also stated it is unlikely the incident would lead to a dissolution of the governing coalition. He speculated that it was more likely to have a negative effect on the coalition’s Left-Green Movement than Bjarni’s own Independence Party, as Independence Party voters were more likely to forgive the Minister for his actions.