LONDON — The British police have opened an investigation into parties held at 10 Downing Street and other government offices during the coronavirus lockdown, an ominous development for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is trying to hold off a career-threatening challenge to his leadership over his handling of the scandal.
The commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, confirmed on Tuesday that the police are 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.” She declined to give further details.
The disclosure raises questions about the timing of another crucial investigation, being led by a senior civil servant, Sue Gray, which officials had earlier said they expected to be released in coming days. Mr. Johnson has appealed to Conservative lawmakers and the public to withhold judgment until the release of that report.
Officials have said that a police investigation would delay the release of Ms. Gray’s report by days or even potentially weeks. That would hamper Mr. Johnson’s efforts to put the scandal behind him. Ms. Dick said the police investigation was opened as a result of information turned over by Ms. Gray’s inquiry.
The steady drip of disclosures about social gatherings — most recently news that Mr. Johnson’s wife Carrie Johnson and staff members threw him a surprise birthday party in June 2020, when such gatherings were forbidden — has seriously damaged the prime minister’s position. Police officers who guard the Downing Street complex are in a particularly good position to monitor the comings and goings of staff members.
An unknown number of Conservative lawmakers have submitted confidential letters calling for a vote of confidence in the prime minister. If the number of letters exceeds 54, Mr. Johnson would face such a vote, which analysts said would cripple his leadership even if he manages to win a majority of the votes.