Metropolitan Police officers investigating social gatherings in Downing Street and Whitehall that allegedly broke Covid-19 lockdown rules have issued more than 100 questionnaires and started interviewing key witnesses.

The force revealed the progress on Monday in its first comment on the investigation since February 9, when it said it expected to send questionnaires about the events to more than 50 people.

However, the force did not say whether it had interviewed Prime Minister Boris Johnson and said it had not yet issued any fines in relation to at least 12 parties on eight dates at 10 Downing Street and in other Whitehall offices.

All the events under investigation took place when such gatherings were banned in London. Downing Street did not comment, but Johnson’s aides said the prime minister had not been interviewed in person by police.

Monday’s update is the first development in the investigation since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. The war has significantly reduced the pressure on Johnson from his own MPs over the alleged breaches, since many think it would be unwise to replace the prime minister during such an acute international crisis.

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, on March 10 withdrew a letter of no-confidence in Johnson that he had submitted over the affair, saying it was not the time to be talking about resignations, except that of the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin.

There was intense speculation before Russia’s invasion that Johnson could face a vote of no confidence from his own MPs if he was forced to pay a fine over his participation in the parties.

But the general view among Conservative and Labour politicians is that the crisis in Ukraine has shifted public and political opinion away from the “partygate” scandal.

After initially declining for weeks to probe allegations about a series of lockdown-breaching parties, the Met is investigating the incidents by sending questionnaires to alleged participants, giving them a week to return them. Johnson received a questionnaire on February 12.

“To date, over 100 questionnaires have been sent out asking the recipients about their participation in alleged gatherings,” the Met said on Monday. “As a result of responses so far, further individuals have been identified and questionnaires sent to them. As the investigation continues, we may need to contact more people as further information comes to light.”

The force gave no indication when the investigation, which it has called Operation Hillman, might conclude but stressed its complexity and that it involved a “significant amount of investigative material”.

“The offences under consideration comprise a number of elements and the legislation itself changed between the event dates,” the force said. “We are progressing the investigation as quickly as possible.”

Met commissioner Dame Cressida Dick announced on January 25 that the force was reversing its previous insistence that it was not appropriate to investigate the breaches, after mounting public outrage over revelations about sometimes rowdy parties at the prime minister’s official residence. Dick announced on February 10 that she would stand down following a series of scandals at the force.

The events included an alleged party in the Downing Street garden on May 20 2020 that Johnson has admitted attending but which he said he thought was a “work event”. There was no exemption under England’s then lockdown rules allowing such gatherings in workplaces.

Additional reporting by George Parker



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