A former special adviser who worked in No. 10 during the pandemic has slammed the government for its failure to stick to Covid rules and lack of honesty about wrongdoing.
The Met Police is currently investigating “a number of” parties that took place at No.10 and other government buildings during coronavirus lockdowns.
Nikki da Costa, Boris Johnson’s former director of legislative affairs, said No. 10 “failed as a collective” to do what it asked of the public and should take responsibility for what happened, in an article for The Times.
There were two failures, Da Costa said: what happened and how No. 10 reacted.
Da Costa, who left her No. 10 role in August 2021, said she can understand how individuals could have made mistakes, and blamed leaders for failing to remind their colleagues of their obligations.
“It is easy to see how discipline frayed and — on an individual basis — excuses may have been made to find ways to justify having what every person in the UK was desperate for: respite from the unrelenting awfulness of the pandemic,” Da Costa said.
“This is when leadership mattered and team leaders should have asked their teams to dig deep and do what we were asking of the public and soberly go about our business. To remind everyone that it was important to live by the spirit and the letter of the rules we were setting.”
But she said those at the top at No. 10 should have admitted to their failures.
“If No 10 failed in that as a collective, as it seems clear, it needs to be recognised as a failure of and by those at the top of No. 10,” she said.
“The decision not to be honest and upfront and the message that more junior people should be blamed reflect extremely poorly on the senior leadership.”
Government officials involved in making Covid rules should have been “as hard on themselves” as they were with the public, Da Costa said.
As the government put together its roadmap plan to leave lockdown in 2021, Da Costa said she and others fought for a policy to allow bereavement support bubbles for those who had lost close family, or suffered miscarriage, the stillbirth of a child or neonatal death.
This was rejected by No. 10 because “there was a concern that it would send the wrong message to the public”, Da Costa said.
Da Costa said statements from allies of the PM that people should “get a sense of proportion” over Partygate make her "angry" because of the hypocrisy of rule-makers being rule-breakers.
“If we in No 10 could be that hard-hearted because we thought it was the right thing to do, then those involved in those kinds of decisions also owed it to the country to be as hard on themselves and their own conduct,” she said.
Da Costa, who was on maternity leave for six months in 2020, returning in October, said she was unaware of the parties and gatherings held at No. 10.
“Week by week I have felt more naive reading of further social events,” she said.
“Others in No 10 will have been as surprised as I was. By no means all will have known, or been comfortable with what has gone on.”
A Cabinet Office investigation by Sue Gray, second perm sec at the communities department, into the parties is expected this week.
The Met Police is now conducting its own probe, after Gray passed new information to the force.
They have asked the former head of the Cabinet Office propriety and ethics team to include “minimal reference” to the parties it is looking into, which means Gray’s report could be heavily redacted.