Skip to main content

10 Downing Street in London, on Jan. 25. London police say they are now investigating Downing Street parties during lockdown.Kirsty Wigglesworth/The Associated Press

The scandal swirling around British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has deepened after the head of London’s Metropolitan Police announced that the force will investigate a series of parties held at Mr. Johnson’s Downing Street office during COVID-19 lockdowns.

Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick announced the investigation during an appearance Tuesday at London’s city council. “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,” Dame Cressida told councillors.

In a statement to the House of Commons Tuesday, Mr. Johnson said he welcomed the investigation. “I believe this will help to give the public the clarity it needs and help to draw a line under matters,” he said. “But I want to reassure the House that I and the whole government are focused 100 per cent on dealing with the people’s priorities.”

The police investigation, which could result in fines of as much as £10,000 ($17,000), is the latest blow to Mr. Johnson, who is facing a myriad of crises and a challenge to his leadership. He’s also awaiting the findings of an internal probe by a senior civil servant, Sue Gray, into the parties. Ms. Gray’s report is expected this week and, according to British media, is likely to include a damning assessment of how Mr. Johnson’s office is managed.

The police probe and Ms. Gray’s conclusions will be critical in determining whether Mr. Johnson will face a vote of confidence by fellow Conservative MPs. So far only a handful have publicly called for his resignation, but many more have privately expressed concerns about Mr. Johnson remaining in office.

Under Conservative party rules, just 15 per cent of Tory MPs – 54 in this Parliament – are needed to trigger a confidence vote. If Mr. Johnson then fails to win the support of 50 per cent of Tory MPs, he would be removed as leader and prevented from running in a subsequent leadership race.

Mr. Johnson has been reeling for weeks from revelations about social events held at Downing Street in 2020 and 2021 when the country was in near total lockdown and social gatherings were not permitted. So far, there have been reports of 17 parties, including two held on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral last April, when the Queen was forced to sit alone in St. George’s Chapel because of COVID-19 restrictions.

On Monday, ITV reported that several dozen Downing Street officials held a birthday party for Mr. Johnson in June, 2020. A month earlier, he attended a gathering of at least 30 staff who had been told in an e-mail from one of the Prime Minister’s senior aides to “bring their own booze!” Mr. Johnson’s former assistant, Dominic Cummings, has said that when he warned the Prime Minister that the May event violated COVID-19 restrictions, Mr. Johnson waved aside the concerns.

The Prime Minister has apologized for the gatherings but insisted he did not believe any rules had been broken. He has been widely mocked for saying he thought the May, 2020, gathering was a “work event.”

And if the party scandal weren’t enough, Mr. Johnson has been confronted with another crisis – one involving a former cabinet minister and allegations of racism.

Nusrat Ghani has alleged she was dumped as a junior transport minister in 2020 because she is Muslim. Ms. Ghani, the first Muslim woman elected as a Tory MP, told the Sunday Times that when she asked the Conservative caucus’s Chief Whip why she had been dismissed, she was told that “Muslimness was raised as an issue” and that her status as an Islamic woman “was making colleagues uncomfortable.” Ms. Ghani said she tried to pursue the allegations but was told that if she persisted she “would be ostracized and her career and reputation would be destroyed.”

“All I have ever wanted was for the government to take this seriously, investigate properly and ensure no other colleague has to endure this,” Ms. Ghani said in a statement Sunday.

Mr. Johnson has ordered the Cabinet Office to investigate the allegations and said he took the matter “extremely seriously.”

And in yet another jolt to the Prime Minister, a junior treasury minister abruptly resigned Monday after expressing concerns that the government was not serious about investigating cases of fraudulent business loans made during the pandemic.

Theodore Agnew, a Conservative member of the House of Lords, announced his resignation while answering questions in the upper chamber. He accused the government of “a combination of arrogance, indolence and ignorance,” adding, “I hope that as a virtually unknown minister beyond this place giving up my career might prompt others to get behind this and sort it out.”

After reading a short statement, he marched out.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.