Allies of Boris Johnson are increasingly confident he can avoid being fined for a Downing Street gathering during coronavirus restrictions as he argues he believes he is attending a work event.
Johnson on Friday received a questionnaire from the Metropolitan Police, which is investigating at least 12 government parties during Covid-19 restrictions, and the prime minister has seven days to respond.
With Labour demanding his resignation, Johnson’s political future may depend on whether police fine him, which would confirm police believe he broke Covid-19 rules. If that happens, ministers say a sufficient number of Conservative MPs will respond with a vote of no confidence in his leadership.
But Johnson’s allies insist he is “very likely” not to be fined by police over the alleged party-gate scandal.
An ally said whether the prime minister was fined would depend on police accepting his argument that the party he attended was a “reasonable excuse” for a work event.
“Legally, the situation is not as black and white as it seems,” the ally added. “Some of the gatherings may have turned into lavish gatherings later, but not when the prime minister was there. He would argue that he was there for work.”
Johnson hired a lawyer to handle his response to the Met’s investigation.
Perhaps Johnson’s most problematic gathering was at Garden 10 in May 2020, when his chief private secretary, Martin Reynolds, invited more than 100 people to a “bring your own drink” event. It happened during England’s first lockdown, when social gatherings were banned.
Johnson told MPs last month that he thought the gathering at Downing Street Gardens was a work event. Allies said he might have told police he didn’t see Reynolds’ email invitation, calling it “social distancing booze,” but believed it was a work party.
The prime minister’s allies also believe he will not be fined after attending a party celebrating his birthday in the Cabinet Room in Downing Street in June 2020, as it involved a work colleague and popped up on him without notice .
Meanwhile, Johnson is expected to argue that he was working at an alleged event at his Downing Street flat in November 2020 to celebrate the departure of his former chief adviser Dominic Cummings.
Downing Street declined to comment.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said Johnson’s expected line of defence was “ridiculous and embarrassing”, adding that the prime minister was “doing what he’s always been doing, trying to avoid the consequences”.
Calling for his resignation, Rainer said: “The public has made a decision on this and Boris Johnson is now just insulting their wisdom.”
Barrister Adam Wagner said the issue police would consider in relation to Johnson was “whether any gathering was deemed reasonably necessary for the work”.
He added: “In my opinion, a party entirely dedicated to celebrating his birthday, for example, is not necessary for work. It was mostly a social gathering and the question was whether they thought he was at such a party. “
The Met has contacted more than 80 people about parties in Downing Street and elsewhere in Whitehall amid coronavirus restrictions, according to government insiders.