LONDON — The Metropolitan Police on Thursday concluded its four-month investigation into a string of boozy British government gatherings during the pandemic, determining that 83 people violated their own lockdown rules across eight different dates.
The simmering scandal has threatened Johnson’s premiership. That he was not fined for a second time — admittedly a low bar — does help him survive to fight another day, even as he faces two more probes, including a parliamentary inquiry into whether he lied about the parties to the House of Commons.
Still, it is remarkable that 83 people at the heart of the government, in what is essentially the British version of the White House residence and offices, were cited for partying during peaks of the pandemic, when they were insisting that people shouldn’t be mixing with those beyond their households.
Some government staffers received multiple fines, for a total of 126 citations.
Such a tally is sure to stoke anger at Johnson and his 10 Downing Street operation. It underscores the widespread feeling — seen in public opinion surveys, local election results and interviews — that voters think the governing elites had one rule for ordinary people and another for themselves. Indignation is especially pronounced among people who were prevented from seeing their loved ones in hospitals or nursing homes or even attending funerals.
The investigation into what the British news media dubbed “Partygate” was substantial enough to have a police code name: Operation Hillman. Although the fines themselves were small — about 100 pounds ($125) — new details about the probe made clear that these were no mere parking tickets, as some Johnson defenders have argued.
The core investigative team comprised 12 full-time detectives, police said, with other support and oversight required. They examined 345 documents, including emails, door logs, diary entries and witness statements; 510 photographs and CCTV images; and 204 questionnaires.
The investigation cost totaled 460,000 pounds, or about $575,000.
Police examined 12 gatherings held at Downing Street and nearby government offices in 2020 and 2021, determining that events on eight dates were in violation of lockdown rules in place at the time.
Among them: a party April 16, 2021, on the eve of the funeral for Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II; and a bash May 20, 2020, with an invitation from a top Johnson staffer telling attendees to “bring your own booze.”
Johnson has admitted to being at two of the gatherings: his June 19, 2020, birthday, for which he was fined; and the BYOB party, which he told Parliament he attended for 25 minutes and thought was a legitimate work event.
He has been linked to four other parties, across three dates, by unnamed sources in the British media. These events were mostly farewell parties for departing aides.
He apologized to the queen for the parties before Philip’s funeral, although he did not attend those himself.
Because the Metropolitan Police did not explain their rationale, the British media and public were left puzzling why some people seemed to have been fined for participating in particular gatherings and some weren’t.
“It doesn’t make sense to me that somebody could attend a gathering in a way that was reasonably necessary for work if the gathering itself wasn’t reasonably necessary for work,” said Adam Wagner, a lawyer who closely tracked pandemic regulations.
Johnson rebuffed calls to resign after he was fined last month and has tried to justify his breach by saying he was an “honest” politician who had “inadvertently” misled Parliament when he said that “the guidance and the rules” on parties at Downing Street “were followed at all times.”
Partygate was one reason his Conservative Party endured a drubbing in recent local elections.
Johnson and his government face two more probes. A report by civil servant Sue Gray, who previously said the parties involved “failures of leadership and judgment,” is expected to be released soon now that the police investigation is over.
Parliament has launched an additional inquiry into whether Johnson “knowingly misled” lawmakers about the gatherings and whether they violated lockdown rules.
Leaders from the opposition Labour Party on Thursday repeated calls for the prime minister to resign.
“Based on the 126 fines from the parties,” Emily Thornberry told radio broadcasters, “just looking at the sheer scale of lawbreaking which has been laid bare by the police, what we know now, for absolute certainty, is that when Boris Johnson came to the House of Commons and said there were no parties in Downing Street and no rules have been broken, that that was a barefaced lie. There is no possible way in which he can claim that he was unaware that these parties that he was attending didn’t break the rules here.”
The leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, said: “Of course he should resign. He’s responsible for the culture.”
Johnson’s defenders have said that although the parties were ill-advised, they are not a firing offense, especially as the prime minister is taking a leading role in supporting Ukraine in its war against Russia, and while Britain faces a cost-of-living crisis and inflation numbers not seen a generation.
Kit Malthouse, the policing minister, told the BBC: “I am pleased that it is all done. Thankful to the police for conducting themselves efficiently and getting it done as quickly as they possibly can.”
He suggested it was time to move on.