On the Case: PM orders civil service head to investigate No.10 Christmas party claims

Boris Johnson also apologised "unreservedly" for a video in which officials joke about a party during Covid lockdown
Boris Johnson outside 10 Downing Street this year for the Christmas lights switch-on. Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street

By Tevye Markson

08 Dec 2021

Boris Johnson has asked Simon Case, the head of the civil service, to investigate allegations that a Christmas party took place at 10 Downing Street during the coronavirus lockdown last year.

His comments followed growing calls for Case, who is also the cabinet secretary, to launch an investigation into what happened, with sources claiming dozens attended the party on 18 December.

Speaking in the House of Commons this morning, the prime minister said: "I have asked the cabinet secretary to establish all the facts and to report back as soon as possible. 

"It goes without saying that if those rules were broken, there will be disciplinary action for all those involved."

Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood last night called for the cab sec to investigate following the release of a leaked video which shows No.10 officials joking about holding a Christmas party just days after the alleged event.

The event on 18 December last year is understood to have been organised by civil service staff and attended by around 30 people, the majority of whom were civil servants.

In an interview on BBC Newsnight, Ellwood said: “We need to get ahead of this story today. The government needs to show that it takes it seriously.

“It’s understandable that the government wants to focus on this coming Christmas, not the last one, given the worrying development of this Omicron variant.

“But nevertheless, if questions are still outstanding, let’s task Simon Case, the cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, or another senior independent voice to look into this, find out what’s happened, to clarify, so we can move forward.”

No.10 continues to insist that no party took place.

Last week, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner wrote to Case, asking him to conduct an internal investigation into the use of government property for the party and the role played by Boris Johnson and his officials.

Ellwood, a former defence minister, is the latest to call for an investigation, while Tory backbenchers are understood to be "apoplectic" about the party.

Ellwood was himself criticised by home secretary Priti Patel on 17 December for giving a speech at a dinner in London, although he has denied the speech broke any Covid rules.

The alleged Downing Street party took place a day after Patel’s comments, while the video leaked to ITV shows officials joking about having held a Christmas party just four days later, on December 22.

The video shows Johnson’s then-press secretary Allegra Stratton and his special adviser Ed Oldfield rehearsing a news conference where Stratton joked: "This fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced."

They also joked that “it wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine" and "it was a business meeting".

Johnson apologised for the video at Prime Minister's Questions, saying he shared the anger at seeing No.10 staff seeming to "make light of lockdown measures".

Stratton was brought into the PM’s team to hold White House-style press conferences after the government spent £2.6m on a venue to hold the briefings.

The video obtained by ITV shows her prepping for a broadcast appearance before the plans were scrapped, with no official briefing ever taking place.

Another video emerged last night showing House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg joking about the reports at this year's Institute of Economic Affairs Christmas party.

He jokes in the video, published on Guido Fawkes: "This party is not going to be investigated by the police in a year's time."

Meanwhile, education secretary Gavin Williamson has been accused of throwing a “reckless” party for Department for Education staff on 10 December last year when London Tier 2 restrictions banned social mixing between households.

A DfE spokesperson told the Mirror, which first reported on the DfE event: “The gathering was used to thank those staff for their efforts during the pandemic.

"While this was work-related, looking back we accept it would have been better not to have gathered in this way at that particular time.”

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