The Metropolitan Police has launched an investigation into “a number of events” in Downing Street and Whitehall over potential breaches of coronavirus regulations.
The force’s commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said the decision to investigate was made as a result of information provided by the Cabinet Office investigation into the gatherings – and “my officers’ own assessment”.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said this inquiry – led by senior civil servant Sue Gray – “is continuing” and there is “ongoing contact” with the Met.
Sky News understands Ms Gray’s report will not be published while the Met’s investigation is ongoing.
Reacting to the news, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said Boris Johnson had become a “national distraction” and should resign.
She added: “With Boris Johnson’s Downing Street now under police investigation, how on earth can he think he can stay on as prime minister?”
Conservative MP David Davis, who last week called on the PM to go, said: “This nightmare gets even worse. We have to be able to get back to dealing with real threats as quickly as possible.”
Fellow Tory Tobias Ellwood told Sky News: “I think that confidence is slipping away. This adds to the misery that the party and the government continues to endure.”
Matt Fowler, co-founder of the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign group, said: “The prime minister has already lost all credibility and the fact that the leader of the country is now under police investigation is deeply reprehensible. He needs to resign.”
How did we get here?
Disclosures surrounding a range of gatherings in Downing Street and a number of government departments during COVID restrictions in 2020 and 2021 have put pressure on Mr Johnson, with the PM facing calls to resign from opposition parties and some of his own backbench MPs.
In the latest revelation, Number 10 has admitted the PM had a birthday celebration inside Downing Street during the first COVID lockdown in 2020.
Mr Johnson has already admitted attending a garden party in Downing Street in May of that year, which was described by one of his aides as a “bring your own booze” event.
But he has claimed he thought it was a “work event” and that “nobody told me” it was against the rules.
The revelation that officials held two parties in Downing Street the day before the Queen sat alone at Prince Philip’s funeral in April last year has also provoked fury.
Number 10 later apologised to the Queen and said Mr Johnson was not in Downing Street that day.
What happens now?
The Met wrote to the Cabinet Office on Tuesday morning, formally requesting that it refers all relevant information from its inquiry in relation to the events under investigation to support the force’s work.
At this stage there is no estimate for how long its investigation will take, although sources have told Sky News it will take “weeks, not days”.
Commissioner Dick said the force will not be giving a “running commentary on our current investigations”, but updates will be provided at “significant points”.
And she said the fact that police were now investigating a number of events does not mean that fixed penalty notices “will necessarily be issued in every instance and to every person involved”.
Police had assessed “several other events” that appeared to have happened in Downing Street and in Whitehall, but they were not thought to have reached the threshold for criminal investigation, the commissioner told the London Assembly.
Former Met chief superintendent Dal Babu told Sky News the investigation will be “incredibly simple”, suggesting it may not take long to finish.
He said it was “rather unfortunate the police have waited on the back of an inquiry that had no legal basis”.
Met chief explains police approach to past allegations of rule breaking
Setting out the force’s approach towards historic allegations of COVID rules being broken, Commissioner Dick said it would “not normally be” a proportionate use of the Met’s resources.
But she said investigations were launched for “the most serious and flagrant type of breach” where there was evidence and three criteria were met.
“My three factors were and are: there was evidence that those involved knew, or ought to have known that what they were doing was an offence, where not investigating would significantly undermine the legitimacy of the law, and where there was little ambiguity around the absence of any reasonable defence.
“So in those cases, where those criteria were met, the guidelines suggested that we should potentially investigate further and end up giving people tickets.”
‘We police without fear or favour’
Prior to her statement, Commissioner Dick was told that public trust in the Met had “severely waned” given how the parties in Downing Street had taken place in such proximity to the force’s officers.
But defending the force, she said: “We police without fear or favour. We police impartially and we police in an operationally independent manner.”
Commissioner Dick said she understood the “deep public concern” about the allegations.
She added: “The vast majority of people have acted responsibly during the pandemic, many, many people – including many Londoners and my colleagues – have made huge sacrifices and they have suffered considerable loss.”