Boris Johnson has said he does not believe he has broken the law after Scotland Yard announced it was launching a criminal probe into alleged lockdown parties in Downing Street.
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick confirmed on Tuesday that the force had launched a criminal probe into the gatherings which have blighted the prime minister in recent months.
She said that as a result of evidence being provided, they are investigating "a number of events" which were held in Downing Street.
Johnson said he "welcomes" the investigation into alleged parties held inside Downing Street.Speaking in the House of Commons, the PM said: “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.”
He added: “But I want to reassure the House and the country, that I and the whole Government are focused 100% on dealing with the people’s priorities, including the UK’s leading role in protecting freedom around the world.”
The force had come under fire for not investigating the reports over a "lack of evidence", despite an inquiry being carried out in which Met Police officers have been interviewed.
Commissioner Dick said that the force's investigation was launched off the back of officers' testimony.
Speaking at the London Assembly, Commissioner Dick said the Met "police without fear or favour" in an "independent manor".
She added that "as a result of the information provided by the Cabinet Office inquiry team and secondly as a result of my officers own assessment, I can confirm that the Met are investigating a number of events which took place in Downing Street and Whitehall over the past two years in relation to potential breaches of COVID-19 regulations."
Commissioner Dick declined to say which alleged parties are being investigated, nor would she put a timeline on when officers could detail their findings.
The Met Police chief warned that they will not be giving a "running commentary" on the investigation and added: “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."
But there will be updates at “significant points”, she added.
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.
Commissioner Dick added she "absolutely understands" the public concerns over the reports.
Johnson was made aware the announcement of an investigation was going ahead, but did not discuss the matter with Cabinet this morning, No 10 confirmed.
The PM's spokesman said: “That was confirmed by the police while Cabinet was taking place so he didn’t reference it specifically, he alluded to that at the end of Cabinet but beyond that no.
“He made those comments about ensuring the Government is not deterred from getting on with the job, he didn’t go into detail about the Met given that Cressida Dick made her comments while Cabinet was taking place.”
They added: “The Prime Minister was made aware shortly before Cressida Dick announced that in her session.”
Asked then if Mr Johnson knew about the investigation before Cabinet, the spokesman replied: “Yes.”
The Met has come under intense political and public pressure to explain how the gatherings were able to take place at a site with a heavy police presence.
Commissioner Dick said the officers on duty were there to provide “protective security” but refused to be drawn on “anything they may have seen or heard”.
She said there were clear guidelines on when allegations of past breaches would be investigated.
They were only for “the most serious and flagrant type of breach” where there was evidence and three criteria were met.
Those three factors are: evidence that those involved “knew, or ought to have known that what they were doing was an offence”, where not investigating “would significantly undermine the legitimacy of the law” and “where there was little ambiguity around the absence of any reasonable defence”.
“So in those cases, where those criteria were met, the guidelines suggested that we should potentially investigate further and end up giving people tickets.”
Asked whether any officers had expressed concern about the parties, Dame Cressida said that the police officers on site at Downing Street concentrate on “protective security”.
Senior civil servant Sue Gray is currently investigating reports of multiple gatherings in Downing Street, including a "bring your own booze" event, for which Boris Johnson issued an apology for attending.
It has since been confirmed that the full report is now being delayed as she will not be able to release details of anything being investigated by the police.
However, reports have suggested that the Met did not object to the report being published.
It is not known how long the full report could be delayed, though ITV News has reported it could be as long as "many weeks".