London's Metropolitan Police said Tuesday that there is an investigation underway into a series of parties at No. 10 Downing Street while the rest of London and Britain was under government-ordered COVID-19 lockdown. The investigation is another blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and comes amid new allegations that Johnson and his staff gathered in his Downing Street office to celebrate his birthday in June 2020, during the first lockdown.
Until now, Scotland Yard had left the "partygate" inquiry to a Cabinet Office investigation being led by senior civil servant Sue Gray. Based on information from Gray's investigation and "my officers' own assessment, I can confirm that the Met is now investigating a number of events that took place at Downing Street and Whitehall in the last two years in relation to potential breaches of COVID-19 regulations," Met Commissioner Cressida Dick told the London Assembly on Tuesday.
"The fact that we are now investigating does not, of course, mean that fixed penalty notices will necessarily be issued in every instance and to every person involved,″ Dick said. "We will not be giving a running commentary on our current investigations."
Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, said that "with Boris Johnson's Downing Street now under police investigation, how on earth can he think he can stay on as Prime Minister?" Johnson is "a national distraction" who is now "too wrapped up in scandal to do anything" about the millions of Britons "struggling to pay the bills," she added. "Conservative MPs should stop propping him up and he should finally do the decent thing and resign."
"When you hear the words 'Met Police, investigation, criminal, Downing Street' that sounds incredibly dramatic," BBC's Adam Fleming notes, but "we are talking about the potential issuing of fixed penalty notices — fines — we are not talking about big criminal trials or people going to prison." Plus, he added, "we don't know how many of those high-profile parties are now being investigated and crucially we don't know if they were parties attended by the prime minister."
Johnson's office denies, for example, the new allegation he had a rules-busting birthday celebration with staff in his office and then hosted friends in his apartment upstairs, saying that "in line with the rules at the time, the prime minister hosted a small number of family members outside that evening."