Boris Johnson’s Covid-busting party probe branded a ‘sham’ as new claims emerge

Boris Johnson
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Fresh claims have emerged over an alleged Christmas bash in No 10 as the prime minister remained under intense pressure. The focus on Boris Johnson’s numerous scandals comes as the government rubber stamped what The Canary described as the “racist immigration bill”.

“Get a grip”

A senior Tory MP urged Boris Johnson to “get a grip” on matters following reports that Downing Street’s director of communications made a speech and handed out awards at the event said to have taken place on 18 December 2020. ITV News reported on 9 December that Jack Doyle, who was then deputy director of communications at No 10, addressed up to 50 people at a Christmas gathering said to have been held on that date.

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It’s understood that Doyle spoke to the press office to thank them for their work, as he did every week, and presented some awards to mark the team’s efforts. Downing Street refused to comment further than to say a fact-finding review was ongoing. Doyle has been approached for comment.

As the new allegations surfaced, a probe into reported Covid-rule busting gatherings in government was branded a “sham” by Labour, while the party’s leader Keir Starmer suggested the PM was not up to the job.

Meanwhile, Johnson faces the prospect of a growing rebellion over new coronavirus (Covid-19) rules to curb the spread of the Omicron variant, as reports suggest more than 30 MPs may vote against the government next week. The prime minister has been fielding criticism from across the political spectrum in light of allegations that rules were flaunted at the heart of government last year.

Johnson announced on 8 December that an internal investigation led by Cabinet secretary Simon Case would look into reports of a staff gathering held in Downing Street just days before Christmas, when London was under Tier 3 restrictions. The probe was subsequently widened to include another festive celebration and a reported staff leaving do.

PACAC hearing
Simon Case, the Cabinet secretary, is leading an investigation into alleged Covid rule-busting gatherings in Government last year (Aaron Chown/PA)

Separately, Johnson is facing questions over whether he misled an investigation into donations for refurbishments to his Downing Street flat after the Electoral Commission fined the Tories £17,800. Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner accused Johnsonof having “lied” to his standards adviser lord Geidt by saying he did not know who was behind the payment, but No 10 insisted Johnson had been honest and followed the rules “at all times”.

Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings claimed that Johnson knew his alleged actions would be illegal:

“The truth must come out”

Tory MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, who is treasurer of the 1922 Committee, said on 9 December that “the truth must come out” about the various allegations levelled at Downing Street. He told BBC’s Newsnight:

What we need from all of this is a really straightforward version from the Prime Minister on all of these serious issues – whether it’s by investigation of the most senior (civil) servant Simon Case on the Downing Street parties, whether it’s by investigation by Lord Geidt on the donations to the Downing Street flat – all of these things need to be investigated and the truth must come out.

Lee Cain resigns
Jack Doyle in Downing Street (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

He added:

The whole parties issue could have been investigated in a day or two, a week or so ago, and the correct version given – whoever it was who organised whatever it is that we don’t know or do know that happened.

The truth should have been given and then the appropriate action against those who organised these parties – if that’s what they were, or gatherings… the appropriate disciplinary action should have been taken.

And I think now as other commentators have said, the Prime Minister needs to get a grip on all of these matters.

Following the latest claims, Rayner said:

As more details emerge about the Downing Street Christmas party, the Government’s internal investigation has been exposed as the sham it is. The investigation has only just published its terms of reference and we are already seeing more details from the media than the Cabinet Office about the parties.

Alongside the alleged 18 December party, Case will include in his review a confirmed gathering at the Department for Education’s (DfE) Whitehall headquarters on 10 December last year, and a reported leaving event for a No 10 aide – allegedly attended by Boris Johnson – on November 27. The terms of reference for the investigation said “where there are credible allegations relating to other gatherings, these may be investigated”.

The two December dates coincide with when mixing between households in London was restricted, with England in a month-long lockdown during November.

Case’s inquiry was ordered by Johnson after a leaked video emerged showing Downing Street aides laughing about a “fictional” party at No 10 in December 2020.

Government rolls on

As reported by The Canary, while Johnson has inflicted numerous scandals upon himself, his government has carried on functioning largely as normal. Sophia Purdy-Moore reported on 9 December that:

Priti Patel’s controversial nationality and borders bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons on 8 December. International and human rights lawyers have called the legality of the draconian legislation into question.

She added:

The bill will allow the home secretary to remove a person’s citizenship without warning. Analysis by the New Statesman found that under the new legislation, two in five racially minoritised Britons could become eligible to be deprived of their citizen status without warning. This is compared to just one in 20 people from a white background.

Also on 9 December, Purdy-Moore reported:

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has published a list of over 200 businesses that have failed to pay their employees the national minimum wage. Low Pay Commission chair Bryan Sanderson stated that the aim of the list is to “help protect low-paid workers from unfair treatment”. But the government needs to do more to protect the rights of vulnerable minimum wage workers.

On 8 December, Steve Topple reported for The Canary:

Tory MPs have been recorded groaning and laughing in parliament when a Labour MP was talking about disabled people.

 

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