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Britain PM prepared to cooperate with police on COVID party probe

Britain PM prepared to cooperate with police on COVID party probe

dpa
London
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson signalled on Tuesday he is willing to speak to police investigating multiple allegations of parties breaching coronavirus regulations in Downing Street, the building that houses his office and residence.
However, he said he believes he has not broken the law, even as anger mounts across Britain at a drumbeat of reports about parties in government buildings at a time when Britons had been ordered to forgo social gatherings to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Downing Street acknowledged aspects a Cabinet Office inquiry that touch on potentially criminal acts will be paused after the Metropolitan Police announced that officers had launched an investigation.
The prime minister told lawmakers it is “right” for Scotland Yard to investigate and that he believes it will “help to draw a line under matters.”
Johnson was plunged into deeper jeopardy when Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick announced officers were investigating a “number of events” in Downing Street and Whitehall, a government district in London, after being passed information from inquiry.
Updating the Commons on the inquiry, Johnson 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.”
The prime minister’s official spokesperson told reporters that “everyone required will fully cooperate in any way they are asked.”
Pressed if Johnson is willing to be interviewed by officers, his spokesperson responded: “Anyone asked to will cooperate fully as you would expect.”
Asked if the prime minister thinks he has not broken the law, the spokesperson said: “I need to be cautious about what I say, but I think that’s fair to say that he does not.”
Downing Street said Johnson knew about the police investigation before convening his Cabinet on Tuesday, but that he did not raise it during the meeting.
Asked why the prime minister did not inform his top team, his spokesperson stressed that Johnson judged it important “not to pre-empt a police statement.”
“I think it’s understandable that, given the sensitive nature of what the Met were due to announce, it’s right that wasn’t pre-empted in any way,” the spokesperson added.
The opening of the investigation seems set to further delay the long-awaited publication of at least major elements of the inquiry, which is being conducted by Sue Gray, a senior civil servant.
The prime minister’s spokesperson said that it “won’t publish anything that relates to the work of the police” but can continue to work on allegations that do not reach the police “threshold.”
Discussing the events the police are investigating, the spokesperson 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 Cabinet Office has not set out how the latest development affects the publication of the report, with a spokesperson saying that work is “continuing.”
Dick announced the investigation had been launched at a meeting of the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee.
She said they are looking at “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 investigation was opened as a result of information from the Gray inquiry and “my officers’ own assessment,” Dick added.
She pledged to only give updates at “significant points” and declined to say which alleged parties are under investigation, nor would she put a timeline on when officers could detail their findings.
“The fact that we are now investigating does not, of course, mean that fixed penalty notices will necessarily be issued in every instance and to every person involved,” she said.
Dick said investigations are carried out into “the most serious and flagrant type of breach” where individuals knew they were committing an offence or “ought to have known.” She said “several other events” that appeared to have taken place in Downing Street and Whitehall had also been assessed, but they were not thought to have reached the threshold for criminal investigation.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner questioned how Johnson can remain prime minister with Downing Street under police investigation.
“Boris Johnson is a national distraction.
“Conservative MPs [members of Parliament] should stop propping him up and he should finally do the decent thing and resign,” she added.
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg sought to defend the prime minister’s record after the police investigation was launched, saying he was “honoured to be under his leadership.”

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