A police inquiry into Downing Street gatherings puts more pressure on Boris Johnson.

LONDON — The British police have opened an investigation into parties held at 10 Downing Street and other government offices during a coronavirus lockdown, an ominous development for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is trying to hold off a career-threatening challenge over his handling of the scandal.

The commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, confirmed on Tuesday that the police were 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.”

The disclosure raises questions about the timing of another investigation, being led by a senior civil servant, whose findings were expected to be released in the coming days. Officials have said that a police investigation would delay the release of that report by days or even potentially weeks.

That could give Mr. Johnson some space to breathe, but it would also end any hope of a swift exoneration that would allow him to move quickly beyond the scandal.

Amid a 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 — the prime minister has been accused of misleading Parliament about what he knew about the events.

If the report finds the accusations to be true, he would face intense pressure to resign.

A statement from Mr. Johnson’s office on Monday said that “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.”

The latest twist came a day after Theodore Agnew, a minister in the House of Lords, resigned in protest of the government’s record on combating fraud in government loans introduced during the pandemic.

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