London police review decision not to investigate Downing Street gathering

Move follows emergence of photograph of Boris Johnson near sparkling wine

The Metropolitan Police are reviewing their decision not to investigate a gathering at Downing Street during Covid restrictions after a photograph emerged showing British prime minister Boris Johnson near a bottle of sparkling wine. The event in question on December 15th, 2020, which Downing Street said was a virtual quiz, was not among the 12 Whitehall and Downing Street gatherings police have been investigating for possible lockdown breaches.

"The [Metropolitan Police] previously assessed this event and determined that on the basis of the evidence available at that time, it did not meet the threshold for criminal investigation. That assessment is now being reviewed," Scotland Yard said in a statement.

There was a ban on social mixing between more than two people from different households at the time of the event. But Mr Johnson reacted angrily in the House of Commons on Wednesday when a Labour MP asked if he would ask the police to investigate the event after the Daily Mirror published the photograph.

“That event already has been submitted for investigation,” the prime minister said.

Mr Johnson was speaking during prime minister’s questions, which he began by telling MPs that he intended to end all remaining coronavirus restrictions, including the requirement for those who test positive to self-isolate, later this month. The isolation laws expire on March 24th but the prime minister said he would present a new “living with Covid” strategy when MPs returned on February 21st from a 10-day recess.

“Provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions – including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive – a full month early,” he said.

Travel rules

Fully vaccinated travellers arriving in England from Friday will no longer have to take a Covid test before or after arrival and Downing Street said remaining travel restrictions would also be addressed on February 21st.

During prime minister's questions, the DUP's Ian Paisley jnr asked Mr Johnson to complain to the Irish Government about reports that the Irish Ambassador to Washington, Dan Mulhall, was engaged in efforts in the US calling for the Northern Ireland protocol to be implemented more comprehensively.

“There must be a solution that commands cross-community support and at the moment there is no doubt the balance of the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement is being upset. We need to fix it, that’s what we’re going to do and if our friends won’t agree then of course we will implement article 16,” Mr Johnson said in relation to issues relating to the protocol, referring to an article in the protocol that if triggered would effectively suspend its operation.

Downing Street said on Wednesday that Samantha Jones, currently an adviser on health and social care, will become permanent secretary and chief operating officer for Downing Street. The appointment, which is on an interim basis, is part of a reorganisation of Downing Street that has seen cabinet office minister Steve Barclay replace Dan Rosenfield as Mr Johnson's chief of staff and former BBC journalist Guto Harri appointed director of communications.

“I promised to make changes to my senior team so that we can get on with better delivering for the British people. That is what we are now doing by bringing in the very best skills and management experience with a clear vision to unite and level up our country,” the prime minister said.