Downing Street acknowledged aspects of Sue Gray’s Cabinet Office inquiry that touch on potentially criminal acts will be paused after the Metropolitan Police announced on Monday that officers had launched an investigation.
Mr Johnson was plunged into deeper jeopardy when Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick announced officers were investigating a “number of events” in Downing Street and Whitehall over two years after being passed information from the Gray inquiry.
Updating the Commons on the inquiry, Mr Johnson said: “That process has quite properly involved sharing information continuously with the Metropolitan Police, so 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 Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters that “everyone required will fully cooperate in any way they are asked”.
Pressed if Mr Johnson is willing to be interviewed by officers, his spokesman responded: “Anyone asked to will cooperate fully as you would expect.”
Asked if the Prime Minister thinks he has not broken the law, the spokesman said: “I need to be cautious about what I say but I think that’s fair to say that he does not.”
Downing Street said Mr Johnson knew about the police investigation before convening his Cabinet on Tuesday morning, but that he did not raise it during the meeting.
Asked why the Prime Minister did not inform his top team, his spokesman stressed that Mr Johnson judged it important “not to pre-empt a police statement”.
“I think it’s understandable that, given the sensitive nature of what the Met were due to announce, it’s right that wasn’t pre-empted in any way,” the spokesman added.
The opening of the investigation seems set to further delay the long-awaited publication of at least major elements of senior civil servant Ms Gray’s inquiry into the saga.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said that it “won’t publish anything that relates to the work of the police” but can continue to work on allegations that do not reach the police “threshold”.
Discussing the events the police are investigating, the spokesman said: “I think under the terms of reference that work (for the Gray inquiry) pauses, I don’t know what that means once the Met Police’s investigation concludes, whether they return to them and continue.”
The Cabinet Office has not set out how the latest development affects the publication of the report, with a spokesman saying that work is “continuing”.
But sources close to the investigation suggested that Ms Gray was considering her options and is concerned about publishing a report which was shorn of some of its key findings.
Dame Cressida announced the investigation had been launched at a meeting of the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee.
She said they are looking at “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 investigation was opened as a result of information from the Gray inquiry and “my officers’ own assessment”, Dame Cressida added.
She pledged to only give updates at “significant points” and declined to say which alleged parties are under investigation, nor would she put a timeline on when officers could detail their findings.
“The fact that we are now investigating does not, of course, mean that fixed penalty notices will necessarily be issued in every instance and to every person involved,” she said.
Dame Cressida said investigations are carried out into “the most serious and flagrant type of breach” where individuals knew they were committing an offence or “ought to have known”.
She said “several other events” that appeared to have taken place in Downing Street and Whitehall had also been assessed, but they were not thought to have reached the threshold for criminal investigation.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner questioned how Mr Johnson can remain Prime Minister with Downing Street under police investigation.
“Boris Johnson is a national distraction.
“Conservative MPs should stop propping him up and he should finally do the decent thing and resign,” she added.
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg sought to defend the Prime Minister’s record after the police investigation was launched, saying he was “honoured to be under his leadership”.
After leaving a Cabinet meeting, he told reporters in Downing Street: “The leadership of Boris Johnson this country has had has been so brilliant – that he has got us through this incredibly difficult period and he’s got all the big decisions right.”
The Met had been under pressure to launch an investigation for weeks, with the Daily Mirror first reporting allegations of parties in No 10 during Covid restrictions two months ago.
Fresh allegations have emerged at a steady pace since then and have now totalled at least 19 separate events.
The latest emerged on Monday when Downing Street was forced to admit Mr Johnson had a birthday celebration inside No 10 during the first lockdown.
Downing Street conceded staff “gathered briefly” in the Cabinet Room following a meeting, after it was alleged 30 people attended and shared cake despite social mixing indoors being banned.
ITV News reported the Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, had organised the surprise get-together complete with a chorus of “happy birthday” on the afternoon of June 19 2020.
Interior designer Lulu Lytle admitted attending but insisted she was only present “briefly” while waiting to talk to Mr Johnson about the lavish refurbishments she was carrying out to the couple’s flat above No 11.
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.
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