For months, barely a day has gone by in Britain without the press exposing another party held in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official residence while the rest of the country was in lockdown. On Tuesday, police finally confirmed they’ll investigate if any of those parties broke the law.
The announcement of the investigation came the morning after arguably the most egregious report of a lockdown-busting party yet. On Monday, ITV News reported that a “birthday bash” was held for Johnson during the first nationwide lockdown on June 19, 2020. It allegedly saw around 30 people gather in 10 Downing Street for finger food and singing.
Before that, there was the boozy party reportedly held in Downing Street on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral, where the queen sat alone due to the government’s distancing rules. Overall, the number of parties alleged to have been held by the government is well into double figures.
Despite the mounting evidence in the papers, London’s Metropolitan Police repeatedly refused calls to investigate the parties—until now. Speaking Tuesday morning, Commissioner Cressida Dick confirmed her force will look into whether the government broke its own pandemic laws.
The commissioner announced, “As a result of the information provided by the Cabinet Office inquiry team and, secondly, 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.”
The investigation is another huge blow for Johnson, whose popularity among the public and his own lawmakers tanked as the party revelations kept coming. Since May 2020, police in England and Wales have issued more than 118,900 fines, some of up to £10,000 ($13,500) for breaking the lockdown rules imposed by Johnson’s government.
The prime minister is under intense pressure to resign but has said repeatedly that he won’t speculate on his future until an internal report on the Downing Street gatherings is released. The police investigation will delay the release of that internal report, which had been expected this week, and thus may give Johnson brief respite from the pressure to quit.
But the launch of the Met probe would suggest that the report won’t contain any good news for Johnson. The Met previously said it would only start an investigation if the internal investigation, which is being carried out by the civil service, “identifies evidence of behaviour that is potentially a criminal offence.” It appears that benchmark may have been reached.
After the announcement, a Downing Street spokesperson said, “There is ongoing contact with the Metropolitan Police Service.”
Number 10 previously confirmed Monday’s reports of Johnson’s birthday gathering, commenting, “A group of staff working in No 10 that day gathered briefly in the Cabinet Room after a meeting to wish the prime minister a happy birthday. He was there for less than ten minutes.”
However, on Tuesday, government minister Grant Shapps defended his boss, telling Sky News, “The prime minister clearly didn’t organize to be given a cake... Some people came forward and thought it would be appropriate for on his birthday.”