Downing Street Christmas Party

Downing Street Christmas Party Investigator Accused of Breaking Lockdown Rules

Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary who has been tasked with investigating last winter’s Downing Street Christmas parties, faces accusations that he himself broke lockdown rules by attending an informal Christmas work party with his colleagues in December 2020, in violation of London’s Tier Two restrictions which were in place at the time. Although the regulations meant that indoor socialisation was banned, Whitehall officials claim that alcohol was brought into the office, and that Case was seen mingling with the guests. The Independent has more.

Britain’s top civil servant – who is investigating claims parties were held at Downing Street – has been accused of attending an impromptu Christmas drinks himself last year in breach of Covid rules, the Independent has learnt.

Simon Case, who was asked by Boris Johnson to look into potential Government gatherings at the end of 2020 , is alleged to have shared drinks with 15 to 20 staff in mid-December 2020, according to two Whitehall officials who attended the event.

The informal event, according to a joint investigation by the Independent and Politico, was said to have taken place at his office and in the waiting room outside in 70 Whitehall.

A third official, who did not attend, said the event was discussed the following week and they were asked whether they attended the “waiting room drinks.”

Today, Labour and the SNP questioned whether Case was suitable to lead an investigation into Downing Street’s allegedly rule-breaching parties, in light of the revelations.

A source close to the Cabinet Office said they could not rule out that drinks had been consumed at civil servants’ desks, but a spokesman rejected claims of an organised gathering, saying in a statement: “These allegations are categorically untrue.”

At the time, London was in Tier Two restrictions, meaning people were not allowed to socialise indoors and were told to work from home where possible.

Several bottles of wine and Prosecco were poured in the office, the two officials present claim, and in the waiting room of the cabinet secretary. Case allegedly carried a glass through the group as he greeted staff who gathered for what one official characterised as “last-minute” drinks, including civil servants from other departments.

Case was described as “in and out” of the gathering, drinking with colleagues. Crisps were also served and there were Christmas decorations on the tables, one of those present claimed. The same official said it was “a fairly regular occurrence” for civil servants to drink at their desks during this time but claimed that the gathering in Case’s office was “a piss-up” including his team and members of other departments.

The Whitehall employees who spoke to the Independent and Politico questioned the suitability of Simon Case to lead the inquiry into Downing Street parties.

Worth reading in full.

Downing Street Christmas Party Pictures “Will Inevitably Get Out”, Says Dominic Cummings

Dominic Cummings, who previously served as Boris Johnson’s Chief of Staff until he was sacked in November 2020, has tweeted that “there’s lots of pictures of the parties which will inevitably get out”. The former Government adviser also said that most of the public’s attention should be focused on a party which he claims took place in the Prime Minister’s flat last year on November 13th. The Express has more.

Johnson has already lost one senior member of staff over the ongoing Christmas party scandal, and is facing calls to sack others – as well as to resign himself. But his former aide insists that the worst is yet to come.

The Government is under fire over reports of numerous parties held in Downing Street and elsewhere late last year, despite official Covid rules.

Video footage of the Prime Minister’s then-Press Secretary, Allegra Stratton, joking about a Christmas party in December 2020, just days after it is said to have taken place, emerged earlier this week.

This footage, featuring remarks Stratton said she would regret “for the rest of my days”, led to her resignation.

If footage from after the event has produced such a significant backlash, Downing Street will be horrified by the prospect of footage emerging from the party itself – or from any other party, from that matter.

That footage will emerge is, according to Cummings, “inevitable”.

Writing on Twitter, he said: “There’s lots of pictures of the parties which will inevitably get out.

“And invite lists beyond Number 10, to other departments…”

Some, but not all of the parties which are believed to have taken place in November and December last year will now be subjected to an official investigation.

In a separate post on Thursday, Cummings said “[our] focus should be [on the] actual party in the Prime Minister’s flat on November 13th”.

The party – or ‘gathering’, as officials would prefer to put it – which has been at the centre of this week’s controversy took place on December 18th.

The BBC has reported that Jack Doyle, Director of Communications at Downing Street, is believed to have been in attendance at the party.

He is accused of having given out a number of light-hearted awards amid party games, food and drink in an event that went on past midnight.

Worth reading in full.

Fines for Attending House Gatherings Were Dished Out on Day of Downing Street Christmas Party

Last December, on the day that the Downing Street Christmas party took place, three women were fined for attending house gatherings in London. The Times has the story.

The Metropolitan Police has ruled out an inquiry, saying there is no evidence and that it did not retrospectively investigate Covid breaches.

Last week Ami Goto, from west London, was fined £1,100 plus court costs after Westminster magistrates’ court found that she had, without reasonable excuse, participated in a gathering in a flat in Holborn, central London, on December 18th. Ebru Sen, of Sittingbourne, Kent, was fined for being at the gathering.

In a third case, Emilia Petruta-Cristea, of Wanstead, east London, was also fined £1,100 for being part of an illegal gathering at her home. An alleged house party in Ilford, east London, was among dozens of prosecutions considered by the magistrates’ court yesterday.

Sir Hugh Orde, a former President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said that the video of Downing Street staff, including Allegra Stratton, the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman at the time, joking about the No 10 Christmas party was “prima facie evidence” of a Covid breach and that the Met should investigate. Orde told the Times that the police would not find evidence without looking.

The Met has come under criticism for its stance. In a statement on Wednesday night it said that it had examined the video and a “significant amount of correspondence” sent to police. “Based on the absence of evidence and in line with our policy not to investigate retrospective breaches of such regulations, the Met will not commence an investigation at this time,” the force said.

Wes Streeting, the Shadow Health Secretary, said it was “simply implausible for the police to argue there was no evidence parties took place”. He said: “The police ought to be knocking on doors, taking statements and investigating people in No 10 in the way they would my constituents or anyone else in the country. They’ve got to pursue this investigation without fear or favour and treat the prime minister and his staff as they would treat anyone else. It can’t be one rule for the prime minister and another for everyone else.”

Orde, who was also chief constable of Northern Ireland, said that Dame Cressida Dick, the Met commissioner, faced a difficult decision and a hard tightrope to walk but the public perception was that ordinary people had been fined for breaches. However, he said: “You don’t do a mock interview for something that hasn’t happened.”

The Met did not rule out acting if more information emerged and said it would consider “any evidence” from an inquiry by Simon Case, the cabinet secretary. Orde said he suspected that the cabinet secretary’s inquiry would root out more evidence and that the Met would be forced to make a move.

Worth reading in full.

Metropolitan Police Considering Labour MPs’ Complaint About Downing Street Christmas Party

The Metropolitan Police is weighing up whether to investigate “retrospective breaches” of Covid laws amid calls for an investigation of a No 10 Christmas party held during 2020’s restrictions. BBC News has more.

The party took place on December 18th, with a source telling the BBC that “several dozen” people attended.

However, Covid restrictions in place at the time banned such events.

The PM, who was not at the party, said no Covid rules were broken but No 10 has not said how party-goers complied.

A source who attended the event told the BBC that party games were played, food and drink were served, and the party went on past midnight.

The Mirror newspaper, which was the first to report the claims, also said Boris Johnson gave a speech at a “packed leaving do” for an aide on November 27th, when the country was in its second lockdown and socialising was banned.

Writing separately to Met Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick on Friday, Labour MPs Neil Coyle and Barry Gardiner called for a full investigation into whether or not any laws had been broken.

Sharing his letter on Twitter, Coyle, the MP for Bermondsey and Southwark, in south London, said from reading the guidance, he believed “holding these events was a breach of the rules at the time”.

He said: “Like most constituents, I followed the rules and did not see my own dad last Christmas and, sadly, it was to be his last.

“The sense of outrage from constituents is palpable that they followed the rules whilst those responsible for devising and enforcing them were breaching them at the top of Government.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Guardian has the same story on its live Coronavirus blog.

In the U.K., the Metropolitan Police have said they are considering complaints from Labour MPs that Boris Johnson and his No 10 staff held Christmas parties in breach of Covid regulations.

Labour backbenchers Neil Coyle and Barry Gardiner have each written to Scotland Yard asking police to investigate reports that two parties were held in the run-up to last Christmas at a time when such gatherings were banned.

Johnson has not denied the events took place but said no rules were broken – although he has repeatedly refused to explain how that could be the case.

In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said that while it did not routinely investigate “retrospective” breaches of the Covid regulations, it was considering the correspondence it had received.

On Wednesday, the Daily Mirror reported the prime minister gave a speech at a packed leaving-do for a senior aide last November when the country was in the midst of the second lockdown.