The Labour Party has called on paymaster general Michael Ellis to correct the parliamentary record following cabinet secretary Simon Case’s decision to stand aside from his investigations into lockdown-busting parties allegedly held in Downing Street last year.
Ellis, whose role is based at the Cabinet Office, told MPs in parliament earlier this month that he had “confidence in the integrity of the cabinet secretary” to look into reports that multiple gatherings were held in the runup to Christmas 2020, some contrary to Covid rules.
On Friday, Case recused himself from the investigation after it emerged that an event was held by his own private office. The remainder of the inquiry has been taken over by Sue Gray, former head of the Cabinet Office propriety and ethics team. Gray is now second perm sec at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
Labour said shadow paymaster general Fleur Anderson had written to Ellis demanding that he seek to correct the parliamentary record of December 9’s session in which the MP voiced his support for Case’s suitability to lead the probe. The process allows ministers and MPs to acknowledge when information given to parliament “turns out to have been mistaken”.
The Cabinet Office confirmed that an event took place at the department on 17 December last year, but said the cabinet secretary merely walked through the office and “played no part”.
A No.10 spokesperson said Case had recused himself from the party probe “to ensure that [it] retains public confidence”.
The Cabinet Office event was described as a “virtual quiz” in the cabinet secretary’s private office by a government spokesperson.
“A small number of them, who had been working in the office throughout the pandemic and on duty that day, took part from their desks, while the rest of the team were virtual,” the spokesperson said.
“The cabinet secretary played no part in the event, but walked through the team's office on the way to his own office.
“No outside guests or other staff were invited or present. This lasted for an hour and drinks and snacks were bought by those attending. He also spoke briefly to staff in the office before leaving.”
Separately, Sky News reported today that the Metropolitan Police had referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct over allegations surrounding a party alleged to have taken place at Downing Street on 18 December last year.
The channel said the move followed a request from Green Party peer Baroness Jenny Jones. She argued there was a “case to answer” for the Met “aiding and abetting a criminal offence, or deliberately failing to enforce the law in favour of government politicians and their staff”due to the “extensive” police presence in Downing Street.