London celebrations

London police release over 100 questionnaires as part of ‘partygate’ investigation

Metropolitan Police officers investigating social gatherings in Downing Street and Whitehall that allegedly broke Covid-19 lockdown rules have issued more than 100 questionnaires and started interviewing key witnesses.

The force revealed the progress on Monday in its first comment on the investigation since February 9, when it said it planned to send questionnaires about the events to more than 50 people.

However, the force did not say whether it had interviewed Prime Minister Boris Johnson and said it had yet to issue fines relating to at least 12 parties on eight dates at 10 Downing Street and other Whitehall offices.

All of the events under investigation took place when such gatherings were banned in London. Downing Street had no comment, but Johnson’s aides said the prime minister was not interviewed in person by police.

Monday’s update is the first development in the investigation since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. The war has significantly reduced pressure on Johnson from his own MPs over the alleged breaches, as many believe it would be unwise to replace the prime minister during such an acute international crisis.

Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, on March 10 withdrew a letter of censure to Johnson he had submitted over the case, saying now was not the time to talk about resignations, except that of the leader Russian, Vladimir Putin.

There was intense speculation before the Russian invasion that Johnson could face a vote of no confidence from his own MPs if he was forced to pay a fine for his party attendance.

But the general view among Conservative and Labor politicians is that the crisis in Ukraine has diverted public and political opinion away from the partygate scandal.

After initially refusing for weeks to investigate allegations of a series of parties breaking the lockdown, the Met is investigating the incidents by sending questionnaires to alleged attendees, giving them a week to return them. Johnson received a questionnaire on February 12.

“To date, more than 100 questionnaires have been sent out asking recipients about their participation in suspected gatherings,” the Met said on Monday. “From the responses received so far, additional individuals have been identified and questionnaires have been sent to them. As the investigation continues, we may need to reach out to more people over time. as new information becomes available.

The force gave no indication as to the conclusion of the investigation, which it called Operation Hillman, but stressed its complexity and that it involved a “significant amount of investigative material”.

“The contemplated offenses include a number of elements and the legislation itself has changed between the dates of the events,” the force said. “We are advancing the investigation as quickly as possible.”

Met Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick announced on January 25 that the force was reversing its previous insistence that it was not appropriate to investigate breaches, after growing public outrage following revelations of sometimes rowdy parties at the official residence of the Prime Minister. Dick announced on February 10 that she would step down following a series of force scandals.

The events included an alleged Downing Street garden party on May 20, 2020 which Johnson admitted to attending but said he thought was a “work event”. There were no exemptions under then-lockdown rules in England allowing such workplace gatherings.

Additional reporting by George Parker