The Flubbed Police Investigation Into Boris Johnson’s Partygate

Photograph Source: Matt Brown – CC BY 2.0

Boris “BoJo” Johnson’s statements to the British public on the UK’s Covid lockdown (courtesy of Private Eye, 29 April 2022):

+ “The more we all follow the rules, the fewer lives will be lost” (28 March 2020)

+ “Don’t meet up with friends, hanging out in parks could kill” (3 April 2020)

+ “Anyone can get coronavirus. If you go out, you could spread it. People could die” (8 April 2020)

+ “Rules aren’t just for others. Play your part to beat the virus” (14 April 2020)

+ “If one person breaks the rules, we all suffer” (15 April 2020)

The UK’s rightwing media can’t resist depicting BoJo Johnson as the country’s great political escapologist, someone who has taken the definition of a Teflon politician to new heights (though “depths” is the more accurate characterization). The individual with the supposed gift of being able to rewrite an adverse political script with an instantaneous finger click.

Last week the Metropolitan police announced that BoJo would face only one fine for his Partygate transgressions at the prime ministerial No. 10 Downing Street residence during the Covid lockdown.

The Met concluded its “investigation” into Partygate by announcing that No 10 was the venue for 126 breaches of the law committed by 83 people—the largest single location for lockdown crimes during the pandemic.

While the UK was in a lockdown where people were unable to attend the funerals of loved ones, or be at their deathbeds, BoJo was treating his official residence/workplace as the equivalent of a frat house. Despite this, BoJo only received a single fine from the Met even though he attended at least 6 illegal social gatherings at No 10.

This evident discrepancy between BoJo’s repeated transgressions and the subsequent slight slap on the wrist prompted much media head scratching.

Staff known to have attended the same 6 illegal social gatherings as BoJo were fined while he wasn’t. One staff member received 5 fines in total. These largely more junior staff members, unlike BoJo, were said to be unable to afford expensive lawyers during the Met’s investigation. The age-old adage thus remains vindicated: if you have the money, the law will be on your side.

Adam Wagner, the UK’s leading authority on Covid law, said the Met’s leniency towards him amounts to a verdict that BoJo “attended six illegal gatherings but attended five of them legally”.

The Met, which assigned a team of 12 detectives to the Partygate probe at a cost of £460,000/$574,000, flubbed its investigation of Partygate from the start.

While a parent was fined for kicking a ball in the park with their autistic child during the lockdown, the hopeless Met, which provides 24/7 security for No  10, refused to investigate Partygate, saying it was “unnecessary”, until a legal challenge occurred. At least one party was an outdoor event, with accompanying music, so the Met’s duty officers stationed at the front door of No 10 must have been stone deaf if they did not know what was going on.

BoJo was kindly informed by the Met that he would receive no more fines even before it concluded its investigation.

The Met’s timorousness in the face of political authority was evident throughout the inquiry, and BoJo’s presiding over a culture of enduring lawbreaking in the very building where the laws that bound Brits were devised seemed of slight import to the Met.

BoJo’s Partygate travails are not over yet.

Partygate was investigated by a senior civil servant, Sue Gray, when the Met made its belated decision to investigate BoJo and his staff for possible breaches of the law.

Not wanting to compromise the Met’s criminal investigation, Gray handed over her findings to the Met, and delayed the publication of her complete report. Instead, she issued a provisional and truncated report, not making any charges, but with enough detail of No 10’s office environment to show— admittedly in hindsight– that the Met failed to do its job.

It is reported that Gray’s final report will be issued in the next few days. In the meantime, it’s been disclosed that BoJo and Gray met in secret, allegedly at the prime minister’s request (though his office said at first that Gray had sought the meeting).

Given that BoJo has succeeded in nobbling the Met, this secret meeting attracted immediate media attention.

The Independent reports that Gray’s staff have rejected No 10’s claim that the meeting, said by Downing Street to be at her request, was for her “to clarify her intentions” prior to its publication, once the Met investigation was over.

BoJo had said Gray’s inquiry was “completely independent”, but faced with media scrutiny over the secret meeting, his office back-tracked on its original claim, now saying the meeting was instigated by an aide to BoJo, and not by Gray herself.

Given that a mere flunkey was unlikely to summon the head of an official inquiry on their sole initiative, the suspicion formed that BoJo had a plump finger in this particular pie.

The concern now is whether Gray, in her final report, will allow herself to be nobbled by BoJo, and let him off the hook the way the Met did.

The hope is that Gray will lay out the evidence, and follow it to the appropriate conclusions, without fear or favour.

BoJo, who has made manipulating and browbeating those around him a lifelong practice, will of course be mightily displeased should this happen.

Who knows, an uninfluenced or not watered-down Gray report will have an impact that could even induce his so far cowardly MPs to dump BoJo as their party leader, and in so doing end the tenure of one of the worst prime ministers in British history.

After all, the one constant in all of this has been the conduct of BoJo’s pusillanimous MPs, who have constantly put their own electoral interests ahead of any desire to see that the right thing is being done in this baleful saga.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.