Scotland Yard is now investigating “a number of events” in Downing Street and Whitehall in relation to potential coronavirus regulation breaches, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said.
Neil Shaw www.devonlive.com
Metropolitan Police chief Dame Cressida Dick confirmed the force was investigating allegations of coronavirus rule breaches in Downing Street and Whitehall.
She told the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee: “We have a long-established and effective working relationship with the Cabinet Office, who have an investigative capability.
“As you well know they have been carrying out an investigation over the last few weeks.
“What I can tell you this morning is that as a result of the information provided by the Cabinet Office inquiry team and, secondly, my officers’ own assessment, 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.”
Sue Gray’s investigation into gatherings held at No 10 and across Whitehall will continue after the Metropolitan Police said it will probe “a number of events”.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “The investigation being carried out by Sue Gray is continuing.
“There is ongoing contact with the Metropolitan Police Service.”
It is not clear whether the publication of the senior official’s report will be delayed by the opening of the police investigation.
In the latest party revelation, No 10 has conceded staff “gathered briefly” in the Cabinet Room on the afternoon of June 19 2020 following a meeting after it was alleged 30 people attended, shared cake, and sang “happy birthday” to the PM, despite social mixing indoors being banned.
Grant Shapps said it was disputed how many people attended, and that the surprise gathering had not been organised by the Prime Minister’s wife Carrie Johnson as reported.
But he said “it clearly shouldn’t happen” and that people should have stuck by the rules.
ITV News reported the get together featured a rendition of “happy birthday” and was attended by staff, Mrs Johnson, and interior designer Lulu Lytle.
Ms Lytle, who was doing up the PM’s flat, admitted attending but insisted she was only present “briefly” while waiting to talk to Mr Johnson about the lavish refurbishments.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “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.”
Mr Shapps said staff would have “thought they were being kind” by marking the PM’s birthday but he said it was “almost certainly very unwise”.
The Transport Secretary was asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about a letter sent to Mr Johnson by then seven-year-old Josephine Booth in March 2020 who told the Prime Minister she had cancelled her own party due to coronavirus.
Mr Johnson tweeted at the time that she “sets a great example to us all by postponing her birthday party until we have sent coronavirus packing”.
Mr Shapps said: “I think that she did exactly the right thing.
“I think that should have been done in all cases, and I don’t seek to say otherwise.”
He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “I think people should stick by… should have stuck by the rules.”
But he sought to explain the gathering by saying those present had already been working together.
“I think we can be pretty clear that the Prime Minister didn’t present the cake to himself.
“This is somebody coming in with that cake and I’ve explained to you that I’m furious with everybody who broke the rules,” he told Sky News.
But he added: “These are staff he would have been working with and was working with all day long, and will have been many a time in the same room with them working on the response to coronavirus.
“They come in, give him a cake, I understand I think it lasted for 10 minutes and that was it.”
He told Good Morning Britain: “Look, as the Prime Minister’s said, where mistakes were made, even though it wasn’t… I mean, he would have turned up and the cake would have been there.
“He didn’t know about it, and it clearly shouldn’t happen.
“But Sue Gray will get to the bottom of that; the Prime Minister’s already said there will be consequences falling out from the Sue Gray report, and my hope is we can get to see that very quickly.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak was understood to have briefly attended as the gathering was breaking up as he entered the room to attend a Covid strategy meeting.
ITV reported picnic food from M&S was eaten and Martin Reynolds, Mr Johnson’s under-fire principal private secretary, was also said to have attended, as was No 10’s director of communications Jack Doyle and head of operations Shelley Williams-Walker.
Social gatherings indoors were forbidden under lockdown laws at the time, with a relaxation of the regulations permitting gatherings of up to six people to take place outside.
Senior official Sue Gray was already aware of the birthday party allegations, Mr Shapps said.
She has been investigating a series of claims of rule-breaking parties in No 10 and across Whitehall as Mr Johnson faces calls to resign as Prime Minister, including from some of his own Conservative MPs who are waiting for her report before deciding on the PM’s fate.
ITV News also reported later the same evening family friends were hosted upstairs to further celebrate the Prime Minister’s 56th birthday in his official residence.
No 10 said: “This is totally untrue.
“In line with the rules at the time the Prime Minister hosted a small number of family members outside that evening.”
The allegations capped another torrid day for Mr Johnson after Lord Agnew dramatically resigned as a minister at the despatch box over the “schoolboy” handling of fraudulent Covid business loans.
Mr Johnson was earlier forced to launch a Cabinet Office investigation into Tory MP Nusrat Ghani’s allegation that a Government whip linked her “Muslimness” to her sacking as a minister in 2020.
List of the alleged gatherings, which in several cases have been admitted to
– May 15 2020: Downing Street garden party
Boris Johnson, his wife Carrie, former chief adviser Dominic Cummings, and Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, were all pictured, in a photograph leaked to The Guardian, sitting around a table in the No 10 garden, with wine and cheese in front of them.
Some 15 other people were also in the photograph, but the Prime Minister has insisted this was a work meeting, saying: “Those were meetings of people at work, talking about work.”
– May 20 2020: BYOB garden party
The revelation came in an email, leaked to ITV, from Mr Reynolds to more than 100 Downing Street employees inviting them to “bring your own booze” for an evening gathering.
The Prime Minister admitted attending the gathering, but insisted he believed it was a work event which could “technically” have been within the rules.
– June 19 2020: Alleged birthday party for Boris Johnson
A Downing Street spokesperson admitted staff “gathered briefly” in the Cabinet Room after a meeting, following a report from ITV News which suggested up to 30 people attended.
The broadcaster suggested the Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, had organised the surprise get-together.
The PA news agency was told Lulu Lytle, the interior designer behind lavish renovations of Mr and Mrs Johnson’s No 10 flat, briefly attended while undertaking work in Downing Street.
– November 13 2020: Leaving party for senior aide
According to reports at the time, Mr Johnson gave a leaving speech for Lee Cain, his departing director of communications and a close ally of Mr Cummings.
– November 13 2020: Johnsons’ flat party
There are allegations that the Prime Minister’s then fiancee hosted parties in their flat, with one such event said to have taken place on November 13, the night Mr Cummings departed No 10.
A spokesman for Mrs Johnson has called the claim “total nonsense”.
– November 25 2020: Treasury drinks
A Treasury spokesman told The Times that a number of staff had gone into the office to work on the Spending Review.
He said: “We have been made aware that a small number of those staff had impromptu drinks around their desks after the event.”
– November 27 2020: Second staff leaving do
The Mirror reported that the Prime Minister gave a farewell speech to an aide at the end of November while the lockdown in England was still in place.
Other reports have said the leaving do was for Cleo Watson, a senior Downing Street aide and ally of Mr Cummings.
– December 10 2020: Department for Education party
The DfE confirmed a social event had happened after The Mirror reported that former education secretary Gavin Williamson threw a party and delivered a short speech at an event organised at his department’s Whitehall headquarters.
A spokesman acknowledged that “it would have been better not to have gathered in this way at that particular time”.
– December 11 2020: Wine fridge delivered to Downing Street for staff’s ‘wine-time Fridays’
A fridge with the capacity for 34 wine bottles was delivered through the back door of No 10.
According to sources cited by The Mirror, the fridge became necessary for staff’s “wine-time Fridays” which were held throughout lockdown, with the Prime Minister allegedly encouraging the parties to help aides “let off steam”.
The regular social gatherings were reported to be particularly popular among staff between autumn 2020 and spring 2020 when staff were “fatigued” with tough Covid restrictions that banned socialising.
Mr Johnson was said to have attended a “handful” of these gatherings.
– December 14 2020: Party featuring Tory London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey and staff
Shaun Bailey apologised “unreservedly” for attending the gathering at Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) organised by staff on his campaign team.
“It was a serious error of judgment at a time when Londoners were making immense sacrifices to keep us all safe and I regret it wholeheartedly,” he tweeted.
He quit his role chairing the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee after The Mirror published a picture showing him at the gathering.
– December 15 2020: Downing Street quiz
The Prime Minister appeared on contestants’ screens at the quiz but insisted he broke no rules.
An image published by the Sunday Mirror showed Mr Johnson flanked by colleagues, one draped in tinsel and another wearing a Santa hat, in No 10.
Downing Street admitted Mr Johnson “briefly” attended the quiz after the photographic evidence emerged but insisted it was a virtual event.
– December 16 2020: Department for Transport party
The Mirror reported that senior civil servants were “boozing and dancing” at the event, allegedly planned by staff from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ office.
A DfT spokesman said: “Fewer than a dozen staff who were working in the office had a low-key, socially distanced gathering in the large open-plan office after work on December 16, where food and drink was consumed.
“We recognise this was inappropriate and apologise for the error of judgment.”
– December 17 2020: Cabinet Office “Christmas party”
A number of outlets reported that a gathering was held in the Cabinet Office on December 17.
The Times reported that Cabinet Secretary Simon Case attended the party in room 103 of the Cabinet Office, that it had been organised by a private secretary in Mr Case’s team, and that it was included in digital calendars as “Christmas party!”.
The Cabinet Office confirmed a quiz took place, but a spokesman said: “The Cabinet Secretary played no part in the event, but walked through the team’s office on the way to his own office.”
– December 17 2020: Leaving drinks for former Covid Taskforce head
The former director-general of the Government’s Covid Taskforce said she was “truly sorry” over an evening gathering in the Cabinet Office for her leaving drinks during coronavirus restrictions days before Christmas in 2020.
Kate Josephs, who is now chief executive of Sheffield City Council, said she gathered with colleagues who were in the office that day and added that she is co-operating with the probe by senior civil servant Sue Gray.
– December 18 2020: Christmas party at Downing Street
The claim which kicked off the rule-breaking allegations is that a party was held for Downing Street staff on December 18.
Officials and advisers reportedly made speeches, enjoyed a cheese board, drank together and exchanged Secret Santa gifts, although the Prime Minister is not thought to have attended.
Mr Johnson’s spokeswoman, Allegra Stratton, quit after being filmed joking about it with fellow aides at a mock press conference.
– Run up to Christmas 2020
The Daily Mirror reported that Mr Johnson attended a leaving do for defence adviser Captain Steve Higham before Christmas 2020.
The newspaper alleged the Prime Minister made a speech but No 10 did not respond to a request for comment and the Ministry of Defence declined.
– April 16 2021: Drinks and dancing the night before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral
The Telegraph reported that advisers and civil servants gathered after work for two separate events on the Friday night.
They were to mark the departure of James Slack, Mr Johnson’s former director of communications, and one of the Prime Minister’s personal photographers.
Mr Slack, who left his No 10 role to become deputy editor-in-chief of The Sun newspaper, said he was sorry for the “anger and hurt” caused by his leaving do, while Downing Street apologised to the Queen.
The Telegraph quoted a No 10 spokesman as saying Mr Johnson was not in Downing Street that day and is said to have been at Chequers.
The newspaper reported accounts from witnesses who said alcohol was drunk and guests danced to music, adding that it had been told that around 30 people attended both events combined.