Scotland Yard investigating Downing Street lockdown parties, adding pressure on Britain’s Boris Johnson
Scotland Yard said Tuesday that it is investigating lockdown parties on Downing Street — where Britain’s top elected leaders live — to determine whether government officials violated coronavirus restrictions, putting further pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The Metropolitan Police Service, as Scotland Yard is also known, has launched an inquiry into “a number of events” on Downing Street because they met the force’s criteria for investigating the “most serious and flagrant” breaches of COVID-19 rules, Commissioner Cressida Dick told the London Assembly, the British capital’s local council.
Johnson is facing calls to resign amid revelations that he and his staff attended a series of parties during the spring and winter of 2020, when most social gatherings were banned throughout England, forcing residents to miss weddings, funerals and birthdays as friends and relatives died alone in hospitals. The gatherings are already being investigated by a senior civil servant, Sue Gray, whose report will be crucial in determining whether Johnson can remain in power.
Johnson has apologized for attending a party in the garden of his Downing Street offices in May 2020 but said he had considered it a work gathering that fell within the social distancing rules in place at the time.
In the latest revelation, ITV News reported late Monday that Johnson attended a birthday party in his Downing Street office and later hosted friends at his official residence upstairs in June 2020. Johnson’s spokespeople say he stayed for only 10 minutes at the surprise party in his office, which was organized by his wife, and denied that the later gathering violated the lockdown, saying Johnson hosted a small number of family members outdoors, which was in line with prevailing regulations.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan welcomed the police investigation.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson defends his government’s record in running the economy, fighting crime and dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The public rightly expect the police to uphold the law without fear or favor, no matter who that involves, and I have been clear that members of the public must be able to expect the highest standards from everyone, including the Prime Minister and those around him,” Khan said in a statement. “No one is above the law. There cannot be one rule for the government and another for everyone else.”
Police have previously faced criticism for suggesting that they wouldn’t investigate the “partygate” scandal because they don’t routinely investigate past breaches of coronavirus regulations.
But Dick told the London Assembly that an investigation was warranted in this case because there is evidence that those involved knew or should have known what they were doing was illegal. Not investigating would “significantly undermine the legitimacy of the law,” she said, and there seemed to be no reasonable defense for the conduct.
“So in those cases, where those criteria were met, the guidelines suggested that we should potentially investigate further and end up giving people tickets,” she said.
“Fixed penalty notices,” or tickets for lockdown breaches, at the time carried a maximum fine of $13,500 (U.S.).
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