LONDON — The Metropolitan Police will investigate whether lockdown-busting parties were held in No. 10 Downing Street in breach of COVID-19 rules, head of the force Cressida Dick said.
Appearing before the London Assembly’s police and crime committee Tuesday, the police chief said that as a result of information provided by the U.K. government’s investigation led by senior civil servant Sue Gray, the Met was “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 Metropolitan Police chief has come under increasing pressure to investigate the Downing Street parties because other social gatherings held in London at the same time were investigated, and members of the public have been fined for breaching lockdown rules.
The news is a serious blow for Prime Minister Boris Johnson who is fighting to save his political career after admitting he attended one of the parties under investigation by Gray.
A government official familiar with the investigation said the Gray report, which had been due to be published this week, would not now be published this week.
But an official in Gray’s office said in a statement that her internal probe will continue. “The investigation being carried out by Sue Gray is continuing. There is in ongoing contact with the Metropolitan Police Service,” the statement said. Downing Street had previously said Gray’s investigation could be paused if a criminal probe was launched.
ITV News reported on Monday that a birthday party was thrown for the prime minister on June 19, 2020 during the first coronavirus lockdown in the U.K. despite a strict ban on socializing indoors.
A No. 10 spokesperson told ITV in response: “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 10 minutes.”
There are now 19 separate allegations of government gatherings in potential breach of the COVID rules that have been reported in the U.K. media.
A number of Conservative MPs, unhappy with Johnson’s handling of the crisis, have already indicated they are waiting until the Gray report is published to decide whether to submit a letter of no-confidence in the prime minister. It requires 54 letters from Conservative MPs to party chiefs to trigger a vote on Johnson’s future.
Dick told the committee she understood the “deep public concern about the allegations.”
Following the announcement, Labour Party Deputy Leader Angela Rayner renewed opposition calls for Johnson to resign.
She asked: “With Boris Johnson’s Downing Street now under police investigation, how on earth can he think he can stay on as prime minister?”