Boris Johnson has been referred to police over new allegations of breaching Covid lockdown rules, in a move labeled a political “smear” by his allies.
The Metropolitan Police and Thames Valley Police confirmed on Tuesday that they were looking at meetings Mr Johnson attended – including entertaining visitors – in Downing Street and Checkers when he was Prime Minister.
It was prompted by the Cabinet Office handing over diary entries discovered by lawyers working for Mr Johnson’s formal submission to the Covid inquiry.
Cabinet Office sources said officials were required by civil service code to give the information to police as the listings detailed possible violations of Covid rules.
However, a spokesperson for Johnson said the allegations were “completely untrue” and suggested the claims were made for “political purposes”.
Legal options will be considered by the former prime minister after the government passed extracts from his diaries to police without notifying him.
The development caused a fierce reaction as friends of the former prime minister claimed he was the target of a “political stabbing” and a “smear”.
An ally of Mr Johnson said: “This is ridiculous and is a deliberate attempt to misread diary entries to make something out of nothing.”
Supporters of the former prime minister noted that Oliver Dowden, the top minister in the Cabinet Office, is one of Rishi Sunak’s closest friends in politics.
But sources at the Cabinet Office said no minister was involved in the decision, dismissing any allegations of political activity and saying officials were under an obligation to act.
It comes as the government braces for confirmation that net migration has reached an all-time high, with forecasts the total will be between 700,000 and one million.
The former prime minister’s downfall last year followed the “partygate” scandal, which saw Covid fines handed out for eight events held in government buildings. Mr Johnson was fined one.
A linked inquiry by the House of Commons Committee on Privileges into whether Mr Johnson misled MPs about the events continues to overshadow his hopes of a political comeback, with a report due next month. The committee is deemed to have been informed of the referral by the police.
New Checkers and Downing Street events
Little is known about the gatherings at the heart of the latest development. A source familiar with them said there were a “handful” of events. Another said “more than ten”.
Police confirmed they took place between June 2020 and May 2021, a period when the country went in and out of lockdown.
The Telegraph has been told that one of the events being watched was a luncheon at No. 10 Garden attended by Mr Johnson and his mother Charlotte, who died in September 2021.
Another, which Whitehall sources vehemently denied was a breach of the rules and was allegedly arranged by Downing Street, allegedly involved Mr Johnson meeting with television presenter Kate Garraway to discuss her husband, who is in life-threatening condition was left after being diagnosed with Covid in March 2020. The full details of the events are not yet public.
Sunak to Johnson
Enmity between supporters of Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak over last year’s Tory uprising that led to the ousting of the former Prime Minister from Downing Street has grown.
Mr Johnson resigned less than 48 hours after Mr Sunak and Sajid Javid, the then health minister, left his cabinet. Allies of Johnson continue to blame Mr Sunak for his death, a claim dismissed by the prime minister’s supporters.
Last fall, Johnson again tried to run for prime minister when Liz Truss stepped down, but dropped out after several MPs supported Sunak.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Information came to light during the process of preparing evidence for submission to the Covid inquiry.
“In accordance with obligations under the Civil Service Act, this material has been passed on to the relevant authorities and it is now a matter for them.”
The civil service code states: “In line with the core value of integrity, civil servants must comply with the law and uphold the administration of justice.”
‘Bizarre and unacceptable accusations’
A spokesman for Mr Johnson said: “Some abbreviated entries in Mr Johnson’s official diary were requested by the Cabinet Office during the preparation of the Covid inquiry.
“After examining the submissions, Mr Johnson’s lawyers wrote a letter to the Cabinet Office and Privileges Committee explaining that the events were lawful and did not violate any Covid regulations.”
The spokesperson added: “The Cabinet Office’s claim that there have been further Covid rule violations is completely untrue.
“Mr. Johnson was not contacted before these false allegations were made to both the police and the privileges committee. This is both bizarre and unacceptable.
“For whatever political purpose, it is clear that a last-ditch effort is being made to prolong the Privileges Committee’s investigation as it comes to a close and to undermine Mr. Johnson.
“Mr Johnson’s lawyers have written to the relevant police forces this evening to explain in detail why the Cabinet Office is completely wrong in its allegations.
“The events in question were all within the rules, either because they were held outside or fell within another legal exception. There is regular consultation with officials and advisers, among other things.
“Many will conclude that this has all the characteristics of yet another politically motivated sequence.”
The Metropolitan Police said they were reviewing submissions “concerning possible breaches of health protection regulations between June 2020 and May 2021 in Downing Street”.
A spokesperson for Thames Valley Police said they were reviewing “a report of possible breaches of health protection regulations between June 2020 and May 2021 at Chequers, Buckinghamshire”.