The Metropolitan Police has said that it will launch its own investigation into parties that were held in Downing Street during the Covid-19 pandemic, when social restrictions in place at the time prohibited such gatherings.
Announcing that the party probe would be carried out, Met Police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said that the force was to investigate “potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations” in Downing Street and Whitehall over the last two years.
The police investigation comes after revelations emerged of another Downing Street party being held in June 2020, which saw staff convene to celebrate prime minister Boris Johnson’s birthday during the first national lockdown.
The PM maintains that he has not acted in breach of the law and told the House of Commons that he welcomed the police investigation which would “give the public the clarity it needs” over reports of Covid rule-breaking.
Johnson told the chamber: “I welcome the Met's decision to conduct its own investigation because I believe this will help to give the public the clarity it needs and help to draw a line under matters.”
The police investigation was called after the Cabinet Office inquiry team, led by senior civil servant Sue Gray, passed information that it had collated over to the police.
It has been suggested in some reports that the police investigation could delay the release of the findings from Sue Gray’s inquiry, which were due to be published this week, while others suggest that the civil servant's report could still be presented in full.
Meanwhile, the prime minister’s spokesman has indicated that some findings from Sue Gray’s inquiry could be withheld from publishing until the Metropolitan Police concludes its own investigation into the matter and it remains unclear as to the length of time it could take for the police probe to end.
After news of the police investigation broke, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner once again called for the prime minister to step down.
Speaking in the Commons, Rayner said that the need for a police investigation into Downing Street conduct came as a “truly damning reflection on our nation’s very highest office”.
However, government ministers reiterated their calls for MPs to await the findings of the Sue Gray inquiry.
Several Conservative MPs are believed to be waiting on the findings of Sue Gray’s report before deciding on whether to submit a letter of no confidence in Johnson’s leadership to the chair of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs.
Former cabinet minister David Davis, who himself called for the prime minister to resign in last Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions session, was disappointed that the police investigation came as a prolongation of the Downing Street party controversy and warned MPs that Parliament had to “get back to dealing with real threats as quickly as possible.”
Another Conservative MP, Sir Edward Leigh, called for a “sense of proportion over the prime minister being given a piece of cake in his office by his own staff” while the cost-of-living crisis intensifies and Europe “stands on the brink of war” with Russian troops amassing on the border with Ukraine.
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