UK PM promises cooperation with police 'party gate' probe

By: AFP
Published: 07:27 PM, 25 Jan, 2022
UK PM promises cooperation with police 'party gate' probe
Caption: UK PM promises cooperation with police 'party gate' probe.
Stay tunned with 24 News HD Android App
Get it on Google Play

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday vowed to cooperate with police in any formal probe into coronavirus lockdown-breaking parties at Downing Street, which has deepened the threat to his position.

"I welcome the Met's decision to conduct its own investigation because I believe this will give the public the clarity it needs and help draw a line under the matter," he told parliament.

Allegations that a string of parties were held at Downing Street while the rest of the country abided by the rules have shaken Johnson's government, prompting the worst crisis of his premiership and calls for him to quit.

London's Metropolitan Police have faced widespread criticism for refusing to investigate a steady drip of allegations over the last two years.

But Met commissioner Cressida Dick confirmed to the London Assembly that had now changed, raising the prospect of formal interviews and potentially criminal sanctions.

But she told the local authority: "The fact that we are now investigating does not of course mean that fixed penalty notices (fines) will necessarily be issued in every instance to every person involved."

If questioned, Johnson would be only the second sitting British prime minister to be quizzed as part of a formal police probe.

Labour prime minister Tony Blair was interviewed as a witness in a police investigation into "cash for honours" allegations. Police announced in 2007 that no charges would be brought.

A senior civil servant, Sue Gray, has already begun conducting an investigation into the "partygate" claims and is expected to publish her conclusions in the coming days.

Johnson's spokesman said her fact-finding work not related to the police investigation would continue.

"They (Gray and her team) won't publish anything that relates to the work of the police," he said, adding that Johnson "does not" think he broke the law during lockdown.

Internal probe 

Gray's investigation is understood to include claims revealed on Monday night that Johnson broke lockdown rules by having a birthday party at Downing Street on June 19, 2020.

Up to 30 people were present, ITV News alleged. At the time, social gatherings were only permitted between six people outside.

Johnson -- Britain's populist Brexit architect -- has faced public outrage and charges of hypocrisy over the parties, given that millions of people abided by the rules he set.

Many highlighted how they missed significant birthdays themselves due to social distancing, and were unable to comfort sick and dying loved ones struck down with Covid.

A tweet from Johnson re-emerged from March 2020 in which he told a seven-year-old girl she was setting a "great example to us all" after she cancelled her birthday party.

London's Labour party mayor Sadiq Khan welcomed the police investigation.

"Members of the public must 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."

Public confidence 

Dick declined to give a timeframe for the investigation or say whether the Met would be taking witness statements from police stationed at Downing Street.

She also refused to say whether police would be examining security camera footage from Downing Street, where Johnson has both an office and a residence.

Supporters of Johnson in his Conservative party have played down the latest revelations and the threat to his position, just over two years after a landslide election win.

Instead, they point to his success in securing Britain's exit from the European Union, and his work on securing vaccines to combat Covid-19.

But Jonathan Evans, the head of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said recent government corruption and cronyism claims had the potential to undermine public trust.

He warned there could be a "political price to pay" if ministers and public servants ignored people's expectations of behaviour.

"People do care about it and they do expect those people who are representing them... to be maintaining high standards and to put the interests of the public first, rather than their own personal or political interests."

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.