The threat to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s position deepened on Tuesday as police confirmed they were investigating lockdown-breaking parties at his Downing Street office and government departments.
Johnson’s spokesman pledged his full cooperation as the Tory leader said he welcomed the inquiry as a chance to get through weeks of revelations that have seen him face calls to quit.
“I think it will give the public the clarity they need and help put the matter to rest,” he told the House of Commons.
Allegations that a series of parties were held in Downing Street as the rest of the country played by the rules sparked the worst crisis of Johnson’s tenure.
London’s Metropolitan Police have faced widespread criticism for refusing to investigate a series of allegations of unlawful events over the past two years.
Met Commissioner Cressida Dick finally confirmed to the devolved assembly in London on Tuesday that this has now changed, raising the prospect of formal interviews and potential criminal penalties.
But she told an Assembly review panel: ‘The fact that we are now investigating of course does not mean that the fixed sanctions notices [fines] will necessarily be issued in all cases to each person involved. »
If questioned, Johnson would be just the second sitting British prime minister to be questioned in an official police investigation.
Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair has been questioned as a witness in a police investigation into ‘cash for honours’ allegations. Police announced in 2007 that no charges would be laid.
A senior official, Sue Gray, has already begun to investigate the “partygate” allegations and is expected to release her findings in the coming days.
Johnson’s spokesman said discussions are ongoing between his team and police about how they will continue their investigative work, what may be released and when.
“That still needs to be worked on both in terms of what may or may not be released and ongoing police and investigative work,” he told reporters.
Gray’s investigation reportedly includes allegations that emerged on Monday night that Johnson broke lockdown rules by hosting a birthday party in Downing Street on June 19, 2020.
Up to 30 people attended, according to ITV News. At the time, social gatherings were only allowed between six people outdoors.
Johnson – Britain’s populist architect of Brexit – faced public outrage and accusations of party hypocrisy as millions played by the rules he laid down.
Many pointed out how they themselves had missed important birthdays due to social distancing and had been unable to comfort sick and dying loved ones stricken by Covid.
A tweet by Johnson resurfaced from March 2020 in which he told a seven-year-old girl she was setting a “great example for all of us” after she canceled her birthday party.
‘Above the Law’
Labor Party Mayor of London Sadiq Khan welcomed the police investigation.
“Members of the public should be able to expect the highest standards from everyone, including the Prime Minister and those around him,” he added. “No one is above the law. There cannot be one rule for the government and another for everyone else.”
Dick declined to give a timetable for the inquest or say whether the Met would take witness statements from police stationed in Downing Street.
She also declined to say whether police would review security camera footage from Downing Street, where Johnson has both an office and a residence.
Johnson’s supporters in his Conservative Party have played down the latest revelations and the threat to his position, just over two years after a landslide election victory.
But they led to a double-digit lead in the polls for Labor and calls from even some Tories for him to quit.
Supporters of the embattled leader point to his success in securing Britain’s exit from the European Union and his work on securing vaccines to fight Covid-19.
Jonathan Evans, the head of the Standards in Public Life Committee, said recent allegations of government corruption and cronyism had the potential to undermine public trust.
He warned there could be a “political price to pay” if ministers and civil servants ignore people’s expectations of behaviour.
“People care and they expect the people who represent them … to maintain high standards and put the interests of the public first, rather than their own personal or political interests.”
by Charles Onians, AFP
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