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London’s Metropolitan (Met) Police announced on Tuesday that it has launched an investigation into a “number of events” held at British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street residence despite COVID-19 restrictions.
The Met Police will look into potential breaches of COVID regulations in 2020 and 2021, when England had social distancing rules in place. (COVID restrictions in Scotland and Wales were determined separately by their own local governments.)
On Monday, British media outlet ITV reported that Johnson had attended a surprise party on his birthday in 2020, when COVID restrictions were in place. The broadcaster alleged that up to 30 people were at the gathering in the Cabinet Room of No. 10 Downing Street.
“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 Police Commissioner Cressida Dick announced at a press conference on Tuesday.
Dick went on to say that she would provide updates only on “significant points” and declined to say who is being investigated.
“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,” she said.
Johnson told lawmakers at the House of Commons on Tuesday that he “welcomed the Met’s decision to conduct its own investigation” and that he believes it will “help to give the public the clarity it needs and help draw a line under matters.”
He added: “I and the whole government are focused 100 percent on dealing with the people's priorities, including the U.K.’s leading role in protecting freedom around the world."
A spokesperson for the government suggested that phones, datebooks and other documents would be handed over to the investigation.
There is already an internal government probe, led by senior civil servant Sue Gray, into alleged gatherings at the prime minister’s residence.
The Cabinet Office — essentially, the office of the prime minister — announced on Tuesday that Gray’s inquiry would still continue despite the police investigation; the publication of the final report, however, will be delayed.
Under lockdown laws in place in England at the time of the alleged gatherings, indoor social meetings were forbidden.
Johnson has already admitted to attending a garden party in May of last year, but he said he believed it was a “work event” and claimed nobody had told him it was “against the rules” that his own government had issued.
After initially refusing to investigate previous alleged parties held at Downing Street, Dick announced that a probe would be launched on Tuesday.
Johnson’s spokesman has said the prime minister is willing to be interviewed by police but does not believe he has broken any laws.
Several other gatherings have taken place at No. 10 over the past two years, including two events on the eve of Queen Elizabeth II’s husband's funeral.
A spokesperson for No. 10 later apologized to the queen for the parties that occurred during a time when the queen was unable to have her family sit with her during her husband’s funeral due to the tough COVID restrictions. The spokesperson also added that the prime minister had not been in Downing Street that day.
In total, 19 gatherings are believed to have been held when coronavirus lockdown rules were in place.
Over the past number of months, Johnson has been put under severe pressure to resign from some of his own Conservative Party members and from opposition parties. The Labour Party’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, reiterated her call for Johnson to resign, saying the prime minister “needs to go.”
So far, fewer than the 54 lawmakers required to trigger a confidence vote have called on him to resign.