A cabinet office report on allegedly lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street could be published as early as Wednesday despite a Metropolitan Police decision to investigate some of them.
Met police commissioner Cressida Dick said on Tuesday that information from Sue Gray, who is leading the cabinet office inquiry, suggested there were grounds for the force to investigate whether coronavirus regulations were breached.
Dame Cressida said the police did not usually investigate coronavirus breaches retrospectively and only did so if specific criteria were met.
“The occasions on which we have done that have been where we were looking at something which appeared to be the most serious and flagrant type of breach, and where three factors came into play. There has to be some kind of evidence – not just somebody saying something,” she said.
“But my three factors were and are: that 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.”
Downing Street initially suggested that the police investigation would mean that Ms Gray could not publish her full report until it was over. But it emerged on Tuesday afternoon that the police had no objection to the report’s publication and some reports said it would be sent to the prime minister as soon as Tuesday night.
Prime minister Boris Johnson told MPs that he welcomed the police investigation as a chance to draw a line under the controversy about gatherings held in Downing Street during lockdown in 2020 and 2021.
"A few weeks ago I commissioned an independent inquiry into a series of events in Downing Street, in the Cabinet Office as well as some other Whitehall departments that may have constituted potential breaches of the Covid regulations," he said.
“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.”
Breaches of coronavirus lockdown rules carry a fixed penalty so the publication of Ms Gray’s report does not risk prejudicing a trial. Mr Johnson has promised to make the report public as soon as possible after he receives it and to make a statement to the House of Commons.
Fifty-four out of the 359 Conservative MPs have to request a no-confidence vote in Mr Johnson as party leader for it to succeed and a number of MPs have said they are waiting for Ms Gray's report before taking such a step. Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner said the police investigation made the prime minister's position untenable.
“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,” she said.