London Police Issue Fines for Downing Street Lockdown Parties

LONDON — Reviving a politically dangerous scandal for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the London police on Tuesday levied 20 fines on people accused of breaching Covid lockdown restrictions by attending social gatherings at 10 Downing Street.

The Metropolitan Police Service did not identify who had been fined, prompting an instant guessing game in British political circles. But the notification that it had issued a first set of fines, known as fixed penalty notices, was confirmation that it had found that the social gatherings at the prime minister’s office had violated the law.

The police have issued a questionnaire to Mr. Johnson, who was present at several of the gatherings under scrutiny, but there was no immediate indication of whether he was among those fined. Mr. Johnson has steadfastly denied that he violated any rules.

“We will today initially begin to refer 20 fixed penalty notices to be issued for breaches of Covid-19 regulations,” the police force said in a statement, noting that it may impose additional fines. “We are making every effort to progress this investigation at speed and have completed a number of assessments,” the force added.

After facing the looming threat of a no-confidence vote, Mr. Johnson’s political fortunes have rebounded markedly in the past six weeks, largely because the war in Ukraine has eclipsed the outcry over the parties. Even some of his harshest critics acknowledge that the time is not right to force out the government’s leader.

While Mr. Johnson has insisted he will not resign, he is not out of the woods. Downing Street has said it will confirm if the prime minister is fined, and once the investigation is complete, he has promised to release a full internal report on the scandal by a senior civil servant, Sue Gray.

Even a highly redacted version of the report, released at the end of January, painted a damning picture of the drinking culture in Downing Street, and it condemned Mr. Johnson for failing to exercise better leadership.

The police initially appeared reluctant to investigate allegations that illicit parties had been held in Downing Street. They announced their investigation only under intense pressure, after weeks of unflattering reports in the news media.

If the police fine Mr. Johnson — an almost unheard-of rebuke to a sitting prime minister — it could have a corrosive effect on members of his Conservative Party. Many were deeply angry about the scandal, which consumed the government in the weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Reports of alcohol-fueled gatherings during lockdowns drew criticism that the government was guilty of a double standard. Mr. Johnson apologized to Buckingham Palace for two parties held the night before the funeral for Queen Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Philip, at which she was forced to grieve alone in a stall at Windsor Castle’s chapel, isolated from other members of the royal family because of the restrictions.

In the weeks since then, Mr. Johnson has tried to recast his image, emerging as an ally of President Volodymyr Zelensky, whom he telephones virtually every day. Britain was among the first countries to supply lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine, and Mr. Zelensky has credited Mr. Johnson for his support.

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