Twenty fines are set to be issued over alleged lockdown-busting parties held in government buildings, police have said.
The Metropolitan Police said on Tuesday that investigators will begin to refer the notices to the ACRO Criminal Records Office, which would be responsible for issuing the fines.
It is expected that further fines could be issued as officers continue to go through the evidence gathered.
The force said: “The investigation into allegations of breaches of Covid-19 regulations in Whitehall and Downing Street has now progressed to the point where the first referrals for fixed penalty notices (FPN) will be made to ACRO Criminal Records Office.
“We will today initially begin to refer 20 fixed penalty notices to be issued for breaches of Covid-19 regulations. The ACRO Criminal Records Office will then be responsible for issuing the FPNs to the individual following the referrals from the MPS.
“We are making every effort to progress this investigation at speed and have completed a number of assessments. However, due to the significant amount of investigative material that remains to be assessed, further referrals may be made to ACRO if the evidential threshold is made.”
The force is investigating 12 events, including as many as six Prime Minister Boris Johnson is said to have attended.
The Guardian, which broke the news, suggested the fines would be issued relating to the most straightforward cases.
That would appear to exclude Boris Johnson, who was one of dozens of people issued with a police questionnaire to account for his actions and took legal advice from his personal lawyer on how to respond.
A spokesman for the PM said Johnson had not received a fine at this time but reiterated that Downing Street would make it known if that were to happen.
He said: “We’ve said we’ll update if that were to occur, but our position has not changed.”
He added it was “important to note” where the police were in the process in referring the cases to the ACRO Criminal Records Office, which would be responsible for issuing the penalties.
Asked if the Met therefore had not informed No 10 about whether the PM was one of the referrals, the spokesman said: “That’s correct.”
Johnson came under intense pressure to quit as a result of the scandal, but in recent weeks the war in Ukraine has seen MPs rally round the leader at a time of international crisis.
But the Met’s intervention, confirming that laws were broken at the heart of government, could reignite the debate about his leadership.
Government minister Will Quince said the gatherings which took place during coronavirus restrictions “shouldn’t have happened” but it would be “inappropriate” to comment further.
“I completely understand the considerable upset caused, the events that took place shouldn’t have happened,” he told Sky News.
“But I hope you’ll understand that both as an education minister but more importantly, as there’s an ongoing live Metropolitan Police investigation, it’s just not appropriate that I comment.”
He said questions over whether the Prime Minister should resign if fined were “hypothetical” but also said Johnson had committed to publish a full report by senior official Sue Gray into the scandal “as soon as the Metropolitan Police have concluded their investigation”.
Quince added: “Looking at the moment over in Ukraine, and even worse over in Russia, I think it’s a brilliant thing that we have a free press in this country that is able to ask these kinds of questions.”
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said the war in Ukraine should not be used as an excuse to save Johnson.
“That doesn’t negate the Prime Minister from lying to the British public and not following his own rules,” she told Sky.
“If he’s found to have broken them then I don’t believe his position is tenable.
“I think it’s disgraceful and I don’t see how he can continue in his role when he’s been so… when he’s not told the truth to the British public.”
The Metropolitan Police said more than 100 questionnaires had been sent out to people at the gatherings.
They included a “bring your own booze” event, details of which were emailed to staff at No 10 by the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds in May 2020, and a surprise get-together for Johnson’s birthday in June 2020.
Johnson previously admitted he was at the “socially-distanced drinks” for 25 minutes – claiming he believed it was a work event – while Downing Street said staff “gathered briefly” in the Cabinet Room to mark the Prime Minister’s 56th birthday.
The Met said it would not give a “running commentary” on the investigation.
On March 21 the force said detectives had started to interview people as witnesses, but “as yet, we have not made any referrals to the ACRO Criminal Records Office for the issuing of fixed penalty notices”.
In January, civil servant Sue Gray published a report into the allegations of the parties, which said there were “failures of leadership and judgment” in parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office while England was under coronavirus restrictions in 2020 and 2021.
The initial publication contained limited detail due to the police investigation.
A fuller report is expected once the Met’s investigation concludes.
Following the publication of Ms Gray’s report, Johnson apologised to MPs, adding: “I get it and I will fix it.”