So The internal report on “Partygate” should be published as soon as possible, but the demands on investigator Sue Gray are increasing almost daily – and now a police investigation is getting in the way. British Police Commissioner Cressida Dick announced on Tuesday that Scotland Yard was also investigating “a number of incidents” in the government district and investigating “possible violations of Covid 19 rules”. It is likely that Gray’s report will not be released pending a police investigation.
Since late Monday evening, Boris Johnson has had to justify another celebration that apparently violated applicable guidelines. TV channel ITV had reported that the Prime Minister was congratulated on his birthday with a cake and serenade in the Cabinet Room in June 2020. More than thirty people are said to have attended, including his wife Carrie and interior designer Lulu Lytle, who was renovating the Johnsons’ private home (at the expense of a party donor) at the same time.
A Downing Street spokesman confirmed that Johnson received a cake. However, he had been in the room for less than ten minutes, and the employees had only gathered briefly. More details are being determined by Gray and will be made public soon, it said. Supporters of the prime minister tried on Monday to downplay the illegality of the gathering – in June 2020, only up to six people were allowed to gather outside of work meetings in the fresh air. “He (Johnson) didn’t arrange for anyone to give him a cake,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said. The meeting was “unwise,” but “it was his birthday and these were people he worked with around the clock.”
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries tweeted: “So if people in an office one afternoon buy a cake for someone they work with in the office and come over for 10 minutes to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ and then go back to their desks – is that what you call a party now?”
Johnson critics, on the other hand, saw a particularly blatant breach of the rules. In the previous cases, the Prime Minister had defended himself by saying that the meetings were work-related, or assured that he had not been there or – if he had been – at least had the impression of a work meeting. This time Johnson’s presence is not denied, while the cake and birthday songs make it clear that the meeting was non-work related. If the police had been informed, they would have had to issue a fine, said lawyer Adam Wagner, who specializes in corona rules, on Tuesday. Opposition leader Keir Starmer spoke of “further proof that we have a prime minister who believes the rules he is making do not apply to him.” He again called on Johnson to resign.
According to unconfirmed reports, Gray had included the birthday campaign in her investigations before Tuesday. Johnson’s former adviser, Dominic Cummings, also testified on Monday. He preferred the written form because, according to his own statements, he feared that oral statements would be misleading. The end of the investigation was previously expected later this week; now the date is in the balance. How long the police are investigating the – apparently eight – cases is just as open as the outcome. “Of course, the fact that we are investigating now does not mean that fines will be issued in each of the cases and to everyone involved,” Dick said on Tuesday. So far, Dick has dismissed investigations, citing the proportionality and long ago of the incidents.
The new situation could now accelerate a vote of no confidence in Johnson. Several Conservative MPs had made their position dependent on the results of the investigation. There was speculation in the government district that they could now make their decision in light of recent events. If 54 MPs – 15 percent of the parliamentary group members – demand a vote, it would have to be held. Johnson had announced that he would fight for office in such a case.