Boris Johnson is facing a police investigation and the prospect of the long-awaited Partygate report being published imminently after another day of chaos in Westminster.
Scotland Yard chief Dame Cressida Dick announced that the force will probe alleged lockdown breaches in Downing Street and Whitehall after being provided evidence by Sue Gray’s civil service inquiry.
The PM has again denied breaking the law, but the row has reached a new level, with staff facing questions from police rather than officials.
It initially appeared Ms Gray’s scrutiny would be put on hold in what would have been a respite for Mr Johnson.
However, following hours of wrangling the Cabinet Office suggested that parts of the report not being looked at by police could be released.
And it has now emerged that the results could be published in full soon, after the Met made clear it has no objection.
Government sources insisted the final decision will be taken by Ms Gray, and there is no ‘pressure’ from Downing Street.
In the Commons, Mr Johnson said he welcomed the police move, saying it could give the public ‘clarity’ and ‘draw a line’ under the allegations.
In a brief reference before making a statement on Ukraine, he insisted the government would remain ‘100 per cent focused on dealing with the people’s priorities’.
The PM’s spokesman insisted he will ‘cooperate fully’ if required to be interviewed.
It is not clear whether Mr Johnson was personally involved in any of the the incidents under criminal investigation. The offences carry £100 fixed penalty fines.
But there is no precedent in modern times for a sitting PM to be subject to a criminal probe, let alone convicted. Tony Blair was interviewed as a witness during the cash-for-honours affair, but not under caution.
The chaos erupted today after it was revealed that a birthday party, complete with cake and singing, was held for Mr Johnson in No10 in June 2020.
The news broke during Cabinet this morning, and Mr Johnson informed ministers of the development at the end – but there was no discussion, prompting rumours of irritation.
Despite a mounting Tory revolt, a slew of MPs gave noisy support to the premier in the chamber, branding the accusations ‘vexatious’ and asking why Keir Starmer was not under investigation.
During a hearing at the London Assembly, Dame Cressida pointed out that under guidelines police have not examined historical allegations of lockdown breaches unless there is clear evidence and a lack of a defence.
‘We have a long-established and effective working relationship with the Cabinet Office, who have an investigative capability,’ she said.
‘As you well know they have been carrying out an investigation over the last few weeks.
‘What I can tell you this morning is that as a result of the information provided by the Cabinet Office inquiry team and, secondly, my officers’ own assessment, 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.’
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Jane Connors, the Metropolitan Police’s lead for Covid-19 who was previously embroiled in row over policing of the Sarah Everard vigil, has been put in charge of the investigation.
A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said: ‘The Special Enquiry Team will lead the investigations. DAC Jane Connors will oversee the investigation in her role as the Met’s lead officer for Covid.’
Jacob Rees-Mogg walked out of Cabinet and straight over to cameras to vow loyalty to Mr Johnson.
‘I am honoured to be under his leadership,’ the Commons Leader said.
But former minister David Davis – who last week called for Mr Johnson to quit – said: ‘With the police now investigating, this nightmare gets even worse. We have to be able to get back to dealing with real threats as quickly as possible.’
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps admitted this morning that he was ‘upset’ by the latest allegations that up to 30 people gathered in the Cabinet Room, presented Mr Johnson with a cake and sang to him.
Sent out to field questions, Mr Shapps was pushed on why interior designer Lulu Lytle, who had been refurbishing Mr Johnson’s flat, had come down three flights of stairs and was present at the alleged party.
‘You are asking me questions I can’t provide the answer to because I wasn’t there,’ Mr Shapps said.
Mr Shapps – usually one of the most loyal ministers who has been a key figure trying to quell the revolt up to now – told Sky News: ‘It was his (Boris Johnson’s) birthday and these are people that he worked with all the time.
‘As I said, I don’t seek to defend it. This is for Sue Gray to decide on whether this was appropriate, she’ll make the recommendations.
The minister seemed to lay the blame squarely on Mr Johnson’s wife Carrie – sometimes dubbed Carrie Antoinette by critics due to her influence behind the scenes – who is believed to have organised the gathering in the Cabinet Room on June 19, 2020.
‘Look, as the Prime Minister’s said, where mistakes were made, even though it wasn’t… I mean, he would have turned up and the cake would have been there,’ he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
‘He didn’t know about it, and it clearly shouldn’t happen.
‘But Sue Gray will get to the bottom of that; the Prime Minister’s already said there will be consequences falling out from the Sue Gray report, and my hope is we can get to see that very quickly.’
He added: ‘We know that this was a surprise, the Prime Minister obviously wasn’t involved in that surprise, but we need to have a full understanding of all of that.’
Tory MPs are on high alert for more damaging revelations after it emerged that the PM’s 56th birthday celebration included a Union Jack cake, Marks and Spencer’s nibbles and singing.
The event, first revealed by ITV, was apparently already on Ms Gray’s radar. Earlier that day Mr Johnson had posed with his arms outstretched with children at a school in Hertfordshire to show the importance of social distancing.
In March, Mr Johnson had praised a girl named Josephine who wrote to him saying she was cancelling her seventh birthday while the pandemic was raging.
Getting to his feet in the Commons this afternoon, Mr Johnson said: ‘A few weeks ago I commissioned an independent inquiry into a series of events in Downing Street and the Cabinet Office as well as some other Whitehall departments that may have constituted potential breaches of the Covid regulations.
‘That process has quite properly involved sharing information continuously with the Metropolitan Police.
‘So I welcome the Met’s decision to conduct its own investigation because I believe this will help to give the public the clarity it needs and help to draw a line under matters.
‘But I want to reassure the House, Mr Speaker, and the country that I and the whole Government are focused 100 per cent on dealing with the people’s priorities, including the UK’s leading role in protecting freedom around the world.’
Dame Cressida told London Assembly members that investigations were carried out for ‘the most serious and flagrant type of breach’ where there was evidence and three criteria were met.
‘My three factors were and are: there was evidence that those involved knew, or ought to have known that what they were doing was an offence.
‘Where not investigating would significantly undermine the legitimacy of the law.
‘And where there was little ambiguity around the absence of any reasonable defence.
‘So in those cases, where those criteria were met, the guidelines suggested that we should potentially investigate further and end up giving people tickets.’
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: ‘The investigation being carried out by Sue Gray is continuing.
‘There is ongoing contact with the Metropolitan Police Service.’
Dame Cressida said that the police officers on site at Downing Street concentrate on ‘protective security’.
She said: ‘There are a number of officers posted in the surrounds of Downing Street and indeed what we call generally the government security zone.
‘They have a very clear role and that is protective security. You’ll be aware that the ones you see are all armed, and they have a job to do.
‘In relation to anything they may have seen or heard, or done or not done. Again, I’m afraid I’m not prepared to comment.
‘But I can assure you that we are carrying out our investigations and if that is a relevant matter, we will find out about that.’
Told that there must by CCTV of the alleged breaches in Downing Street, Dame Cressida said: ‘I don’t anticipate any difficulty in obtaining the evidence that it is both necessary, proportionate and appropriate for us to obtain in order to get to the right conclusions.’
The Met said it had carried out ‘detailed assessments of these outline findings’ from the Cabinet Office.
The force is investigating whether regulations were breached ‘during events at Downing Street and Whitehall on a number of dates’.
‘The MPS has written to the Cabinet Office this morning with a formal request for it to refer all relevant information gathered from its inquiry in relation to events on the dates in question to support the police investigations,’ the statement said.
The PM’s official spokesman said: ‘Firstly, the Prime Minister thinks it is entirely right for the police to investigate these matters.
‘He commissioned the Cabinet Office to establish the facts and, as set out in the published terms of reference, and as the (Met) Commissioner has said this morning, the independent process has always involved the sharing of information with the Met and the ability for the Met to take forward and investigate matters pertaining to the law, as is right.
‘The PM fully acknowledges the public’s anger and concern about what has been reported, he has taken responsibility for his judgments made and it is right the Met should be now given the time and space to undertake their investigations.
‘It will provide the public with welcome clarity and help draw a line under these events and everyone required will fully co-operate in any way they are asked.’
No10 said Cabinet had not discussed the police investigation, although he mentioned it at the end of the session.
The spokesman said: ‘That was confirmed by the police while Cabinet was taking place so he didn’t reference it specifically, he alluded to that at the end of Cabinet but beyond that no.
‘He made those comments about ensuring the Government is not deterred from getting on with the job, he didn’t go into detail about the Met given that Cressida Dick made her comments while Cabinet was taking place.’
The spokesman added: ‘The Prime Minister was made aware shortly before Cressida Dick announced that in her session.’
Asked if Mr Johnson knew about the investigation before Cabinet, the spokesman replied: ‘Yes.’
Ms Gray will pause investigating or publishing any party allegations that the police are inspecting but is free to publish other matters in her inquiry, No 10 has suggested.
The PM’s spokesman said: ‘As the terms of reference make clear, they won’t publish anything that relates to the work of the police, there are a number of events and allegations that they have looked into that the police said don’t reach their threshold, which they are able to continue looking into.
‘And it is my understanding that they will be able to publish detail about those events rather than ones which the police might be taking forward.’
He added: ‘It’s up to the investigation team when they publish, it’s my understanding they are able to publish the aspects that aren’t a matter for the police.’
Discussing the events the police are investigating, the spokesman said: ‘I think under the terms of reference that work (for the Gray inquiry) pauses, I don’t know what that means once the Met Police’s investigation concludes, whether they return to them and continue.’
The terms of reference for the Gray inquiry state: ‘As with all internal investigations, if during the course of the work any evidence emerges of behaviour that is potentially a criminal offence, the matter will be referred to the police and the Cabinet Office’s work may be paused.’
Downing Street said this afternoon that ‘there are discussions still ongoing between the investigations team and the police’ on what can be published.
‘I am not privy to those discussions, as I think you’ll appreciate,’ the spokesman said.
‘That still needs to be worked through, both in relation to what may or may not be published and the ongoing work of both the police and the (Gray) investigation.’
Tory MP Edward Leigh dismissed the idea that the government was trying to delay the report to lessen the damage, saying Ms Gray would not allow that.
‘I assure you that she would not be bullied by anyone,’ Sir Edward said.
But Lib Dem leader Ed Davey told Sky News that Ms Gray should go ahead.
‘It can be published in full,’ he said. That would be the right thing to do.’
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is thought to have attended the birthday bash for Mr Johnson in June 2020 for a short period of time, but sources insisted that he ‘had not been invited’.
ITV News said that picnic food from M&S was eaten during the afternoon gathering, lasting for up to 30 minutes. Martin Reynolds, Mr Johnson’s under-fire principal private secretary, was also said to have attended.
Other guests are reported to have included Jack Doyle, the director of communications, and Shelley Williams-Walker, his head of operations.
A spokesman told ITV that the afternoon event was a surprise and he stayed for only 10 minutes. The broadcaster also claimed that there was a separate event later on in the PM’s flat.
A spokeswoman for Ms Lytle said: ‘Lulu was not invited to any birthday celebrations for the prime minister as a guest. Lulu entered the cabinet room briefly as requested, while waiting to speak with the prime minister.’
But No 10 denied claims that the bash had been followed by a second party. Instead, Mr Johnson hosted a small number of people outside.
A source told the BBC this involved a meal cooked on a disposable barbecue in the No 10 garden with members of Mr Johnson’s family, including his sister Rachel.
Human rights barrister Adam Wagner, who specialises in Covid regulations, said Downing Street’s statement that the PM was only there 10 minutes ‘appears a clear admission of an illegal gathering’.
He noted that it is the first time No10 ‘has admitted that the PM was at an, to me, obviously illegal gathering with no real prospect of a reasonable excuse’.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said Mr Johnson is a ‘distraction’ from other issues facing the nation and must quit.
‘We welcome this investigation by the Metropolitan police,’ she said.
‘With Boris Johnson’s Downing Street now under police investigation, how on earth can he think he can stay on as Prime Minister?
‘Millions of people are struggling to pay the bills, but Boris Johnson and his government are too wrapped up in scandal to do anything about it.
‘Boris Johnson is a national distraction. Conservative MPs should stop propping him up and he should finally do the decent thing and resign.’
But at an urgent question in the Commons, Tories staged a show of support for the PM.
Stuart Anderson, MP for Wolverhampton South West, highlighted the Russian military build-up on the Ukrainian border, adding: ‘Every time the Opposition call for our Prime Minister to resign, does my right honourable friend agree that we’re only strengthening Putin’s hand and destabilising negotiations?’
Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis replied: ‘He is quite right to focus on what matters around the world and indeed to the Prime Minister of this country.’
Another backbencher, David Morris, complained ‘there is no difference’ between the events that took place in Downing Street and the ‘activities’ of Sir Keir – in an apparent reference to photographs the Labour leader drinking beer in an office during lockdown.
The MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale said: ‘Would the paymaster general consider the Metropolitan Police or any other police force looking into the activities of the leader of the Opposition with his beers party? As far as I can see, there is no difference.’
Mr Ellis replied: ‘My honourable friend makes an interesting point. But of course, police investigations and how they conduct themselves are operationally independent. I’m sure they will have heard what he said.’
Mr Rees-Mogg strode straight over to reporters outside No10 after Cabinet broke up.
‘The leadership of Boris Johnson this country has had has been so brilliant – that he has got us through this incredibly difficult period and he’s got all the big decisions right,’ he said.
‘We have opened up faster than any other European country thanks to the Prime Minister, and I’m honoured to be under his leadership.’
Some ministers and Tory MPs tried to shrug the latest furore off overnight – pointing out that the growing chaos in Ukraine could quickly overshadow the controversy – but others warned that it could herald a new more dangerous phase for Mr Johnson.
One senior MP told MailOnline that the premier was facing huge damage that would not end. ‘It just keeps piling on,’ they said.
A Tory who so far has not submitted a no confidence letter added that the gathering on June 19 was ‘clearly social’ and ‘changes things – a lot’.
A frontbencher also referred to the mounting possibility of the PM losing a no confidence vote, saying if a third of the payroll voted against the PM then he needs ‘at least half of all backbenchers to back him’, adding: ‘That seems pretty unlikely. You can see things get dangerous quickly.’
As allies desperately mobilise an ‘Avengers’ operation to save the PM, 70 Tories including five Cabinet ministers held an online meeting to discuss his situation yesterday.
Housing minister Chris Pincher, a former whip, is said to have warned the group that an election could follow within months if Mr Johnson is ousted.
Whitehall’s standards chief today delivered a thinly-veiled warning to Boris Johnson as he said there can be a ‘significant political price to pay’ for failing to maintain high ethical standards in public life.
Lord Evans, the chairman of the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life, told MPs that voters ‘undoubtedly’ care about the issue after a series of Westminster scandals.
He said that while ‘there has never been a golden age of standards’ the events of the last few months have caused ‘a lot of public concern about standards issues’.
He said it is ‘very clear’ that politicians can pay the price ‘if the public don’t believe that their representatives or those who are being paid from the public purse are acting in the best interests of the public’.
Before the police announcement, Tory MP Tobias Ellwood condemned the ‘latest twist in which has been quite a horrible series of events’, telling Nigel Farage’s show on GB News: ‘Very sad to read these latest headlines.
‘The nation is rightly very angry by what’s happened. We’re almost in a holding pattern as we wait for Sue Gray’s report.
‘I’m curious as to whether this was allowed to leak out in the build up to that report or whether she’s going to have to require an extension indeed to include the study of this latest event. This is all a massive distraction from where we should be focusing.
‘There are both domestic issues, huge challenges nationally, but also internationally that require attention. So it’s very sad to see this latest twist in which has been quite horrible series of events rolling out for the last three or four months.’
Months before the party, Mr Johnson had praised a schoolgirl who cancelled her birthday celebration because of the lockdown.
He tweeted: ‘Josephine sets a great example to us all by postponing her birthday party until we have sent coronavirus packing.’
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries attempted to defend the PM, tweeting: ‘So, when people in an office buy a cake in the middle of the afternoon for someone else they are working in the office with and stop for 10 minutes to sing happy birthday and then go back to their desks, this is now called a party?’
She also attacked former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson. Ms Davidson had said her partner ‘shares a birthday with the Prime Minister’ but did not think to break any rules in 2020.
But Ms Dorries responded: ‘Ruth, you were at home with your partner.
‘The PM was working in Downing St with 100s of staff in Covid war room offices. Where/what is the comparison?’
And Environment Secretary George Eustice described the latest allegations as not ‘serious’, saying ‘at the end of the day a small group of staff brought in a birthday cake’.
He told Sky News: ‘My understanding is the prime minister had a small number of family, close family members, with him outdoors in the garden to celebrate his birthday.’
Mr Eustice continued: ‘I do think that in this saga there have been some quite serious allegations made – those have been investigated.
‘I don’t think that these latest allegations that have been made fit into that category. I think they have gone slightly over the top.’
A No 10 spokeswoman said: ‘A group of staff working in No 10 that day gathered briefly in the Cabinet Room after a meeting to wish the Prime Minister a happy birthday. He was there for less than 10 minutes.’
Regarding allegations of a later event in the No11 flat she added: ‘This is totally untrue. In line with the rules at the time the Prime Minister hosted a small number of family members outside that evening.’
A spokesman for Lulu Lytle confirmed she was in Downing Street, saying: ‘Lulu was present in Downing Street on 19 June working on the refurbishment.
‘Lulu was not invited to any birthday celebrations for the prime minister as a guest. Lulu entered the Cabinet Room briefly as requested, while waiting to speak with the Prime Minister.’
Baroness Warsi told Channel 4 News: ‘During lockdown when so many of us could not go on to do the things that we wanted to do with our families, including birthdays – I had a 50th in the middle of Covid and we had a Zoom Party, my husband had his 50th and we spoke to our children over the telephone… those of us in public life were making decision that erred on the side of caution because we were people who were involved in making sure that legislation for Covid went through both houses.
‘Therefore it was right that we interpreted that in the strictest way possible because we needed to be seen to be following the rules that we were making.
‘Anybody who was at a party where rules were broken, whether that’s a Prime Minister, ministers, special advisers, or civil servants, [they] should resign. If you are in a place which makes the rules and you are seen not to be following those rules then you should fall on your sword, you should say ‘I got this wrong’ and therefore, the way to deal with it is through a resignation.
‘And therefore, that’s not just talking about the Prime Minister, that’s talking about anybody who was present when those rules were broken.’
The latest claims of alleged rule-breaking at Downing Street was described as ‘completely sickening’ by a group representing those bereaved in the pandemic.
Jo Goodman, co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said ‘Like thousands of others, I remember June 19th vividly.
‘It was the day before what would have been my dad’s 73rd birthday, shortly after he had passed away from Covid-19. It was a horrible time for my family, but we stuck to the rules, not even being able to hug to comfort each other.
‘It’s completely sickening that the Prime Minister spent the evening sharing cake with 30 friends indoors and though we’re not even surprised any more, it still brings fresh pain. Whilst dozens sang happy birthday to him, families couldn’t even sing in memory at their loved ones funerals.
‘Regardless of any report, the Prime Minister clearly needs to resign. He’s lost all credibility.
‘Every day and every fresh scandal pours salt on the wounds of the hundreds of thousands who have lost loved ones. If he had any decency he would do what we and the country is calling for him to do and go.’
Labour (Co-op) MP for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport Luke Pollard tweeted two pictures of his ‘lockdown birthday’ in 2020, questioning the Prime Minister.
One picture shows a card which read ‘April 2020 – Definitely the most s**t birthday you have ever had’.
‘For my lockdown birthday in 2020 I had a wonderful day with my lovely boyfriend at home,’ he tweeted.
‘No parties. No rules broken. If I could do it, why couldn’t the Prime Minister?’
Scottish National Party MP John Nicolson recalled his late mother’s final birthday, celebrated over FaceTime, after an allegation of a birthday party in Downing Street for Boris Johnson.
The MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, tweeted: ‘In June of 2020 my mum died shortly after her birthday which we ‘celebrated’ over FaceTime.
‘I hadn’t been able to see her for many weeks. She was very lonely. But we agreed we should follow the rules.
‘I can’t express how much I despise this cruel charlatan and his acolytes.’