LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not be distracted from focusing on tensions between Ukraine and Russia by receipt of a police questionnaire about lockdown parties at his Downing Street office, a government minister said on Saturday.
The Metropolitan Police are contacting more than 50 people believed to have attended the parties to explain their involvement. On Friday, Johnson’s spokesperson confirmed he had received a questionnaire and would respond as required.
“I’ve every confidence that the prime minister will fill out this questionnaire and return it to the Metropolitan Police service as he must,” junior defence minister James Heappey told BBC television.
“But I don’t think for a second it will distract him from leading the international response at a time of acute geopolitical crisis,” Heappey said.
“He will be reading some really very eye-opening intelligence briefs all day, every day. He and the government are in now a very regular routine of National Security Council meetings and COBRA meetings,” he said, referring to an emergency response meeting.
Police are investigating 12 gatherings held at Downing Street after an internal inquiry found Johnson’s staff had enjoyed alcohol-fuelled parties, with the British leader attending a few of the events himself.
At the time many people could not attend funerals or say farewell to loved ones dying in hospital due to strict COVID-19 lockdown rules, and the revelations have sparked widespread anger. Some lawmakers in the prime minister’s own party have joined the opposition in calling for him to quit.
Johnson has apologised and promised to change the culture at the top of government after the inquiry found a “serious lack of leadership”. After five aides quit, he appointed new staff to senior roles.
Johnson has seven days to respond to the questionnaire.
Police can issue a fixed-penalty notice fine, usually 100 pounds ($136), if they think COVID-19 regulations have been breached without a reasonable excuse.
Britain’s parliament is currently in recess and many lawmakers will spend the next week or so in their constituencies.
($1 = 0.7375 pounds)
(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Helen Popper)