The Metropolitan Police’s announcement that it will now investigate allegations of government parties during Covid restrictions has sparked concerns that it could “reprieve” Boris Johnson and his officials.
It comes as police chief Cressida Dick said there will be an investigation into a “number of events” held in No 10 and across Whitehall during Covid restrictions, due to a “threshold” of evidence being met, after weeks of public pressure on the Met to take action.
But just over a week ago, police refused to investigate lockdown garden party claims despite email evidence showing 100 people were invited and Boris Johnson admitting he went.
At the time, Scotland Yard suggested it would wait until a Cabinet Office inquiry led by civil servant Sue Gray concludes before deciding whether to launch a criminal investigation.
Now, it is understood that the Cabinet Office will not publish Gray’s report, which was due this week, while the Met Police are investigating events in government during lockdown.
And it is not clear how long the police investigation will take.
This prompted ITV political editor Robert Peston to say the Met’s involvement at this time is “some kind of reprieve for the prime minister”.
Fine if found guilty
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, responded to the Met police’s announcement by saying he expects to see Boris Johnson interviewed under caution at his local police station.
He said: “This is the first step towards justice for millions across the country who have felt so much pain and anger at Boris Johnson’s behaviour.
“Boris Johnson is not above the law, he must be treated like anyone else. I now expect the Met to question Boris Johnson under caution at his local police station.
“If found guilty, he and any others in Downing Street who have broken Covid rules should be fined in the same way as ordinary members of the public.”
What the Cabinet Office, Labour and the Met said
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Cabinet Office said: “The investigation being carried out by Sue Gray is continuing. There is in ongoing contact with the Metropolitan Police Service”.
The Met’s probe could buy Boris Johnson some time, but it is unclear if today’s development will prompt MPs to trigger a vote of no confidence in the prime minister.
But Labour called for Johnson to resign – with deputy leader Angela Rayner saying: “With Boris Johnson’s Downing Street now under police investigation, how on earth can he think he can stay on as Prime Minister?
“Millions of people are struggling to pay the bills, but Boris Johnson and his government are too wrapped up in scandal to do anything about it.
“Boris Johnson is a national distraction. Conservative MPs should stop propping him up and he should finally do the decent thing and resign.”
According to Cressida Dick, the Met investigation is only launched now because No 10 parties have reached the ‘threshold’.
The threshold includes evidence that those involved knew or ought to know that what they were doing was an offence, the fact that not investigating the parties would undermine the legitimacy of the law, and that there is little ambiguity around the absence of any reasonable defence.
She insisted that the Met “police without fear or favour” when challenged about why Scotland Yard has failed to investigate the government parties to date.
She said: “I absolutely understand there is deep public concern about the allegations that have been in the media over the last several weeks.
“Many many people including many Londoners, and indeed my colleagues have made huge sacrifices and they’ve suffered considerable loss during the pandemic.”