Latest political developments as they happen
Watch live as Boris Johnson faces Keir Starmer at PMQs as Covid restriction rumours swirl
Boris Johnson has ordered an investigation into claims Downing Street staff broke lockdown rules by holding a Christmas party last year – but doubled down on his claim that no such gathering took place.
The prime minister apologised “unreservedly” for the offence caused by leaked footage showing senior Downing Street staff joking about holding a Christmas party.
But Mr Johnson insisted that he had been repeatedly assured that “there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”.
He said he had asked Cabinet Secretary Simon Case “to establish all the facts and to report back as soon as possible – and it goes without saying that if those rules were broken then there will be disciplinary action for all those involved”.
In the video obtained by ITV News, Boris Johnson’s then spokesperson Allegra Stratton joked that the party was “was not socially distanced” and suggested passing it off as “a business meeting”.
Ian Blackford calls for PM’s resignation
The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, has called for Boris Johnson’s resignation.
He said the PM’s actions were “shattering the public’s trust” and called it a “moment of moral reckoning”.
“He can no longer lead on the most pressing issue facing these islands,” Mr Blackford.
“The PM has a duty, the only right and moral choice to him, it is for his resignation, when can we expect it?”
Johnson ‘caught red-handed’, says Starmer
Labour Leader Keir Starmer said: “An internal investigation into what happened – the situation is as clear as day. I thought last week was bad enough.
“Surely the Prime Minister hasn’t now going to start pretending that the first he knew about this was last night? Surely we have all watched the video of the prime minister’s staff including his personal spokesperson.
“They knew there was a party, they knew it was against the rules, they knew they couldn’t admit it, and they thought it was funny.
“It is obvious was happened. Ant and Dec are ahead of the prime minister on this. The prime minister has been caught red-handed. Why doesn’t he end the investigation right now by just admitting it?”
Boris Johnson said: “Because I have been repeatedly assured that no rules were broken. I understand public anxiety about this… but there is a risk of doing a grave injustice to people who have frankly obeyed the rules.
“That is why the cabinet secretary will be conducting an investigation, and that is why there will be requisite disciplinary action if necessary.”
Johnson ‘apologises’ for ‘offence’ caused by video but doubles down on ‘no party’ claim
Boris Johnson has apologised for the “offence” caused by the leaked video showing No 10 staff laughing about an alleged Christmas party, but doubled down on the claim no gathering was held.
“I understand and share the anger up and down the country at seeing No 10 staff seeming to make light of lockdown measures and I can understand how infuriating it must be to think the people who have been setting the rules have not been following the rules because I have also been furious to see that clip.,” he said.
“I apologise unreservedly for the offence that it has caused up and down the country and I apolose for the impression that it gives.
“I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken. I have asked the cabinet secretary to establish all the facts and to report back as soon as possible. If those rules were broken then there will be disciplinary action for those involved.”
PM’s allies alongside him as Johnson prepares for PMQs
Boris Johnson wants ‘dead cat’ plan B measures to distract from Christmas party, suggests Cummings
More on Dominic Cummings’ suggestion that Boris Johnson wants ‘dead cat’ plan B Covid measures to distract from the Christmas party.
The former adviser also declared that “regime change is coming” and “the fish rots from the head” following the growing row over denied claims of a festive shindig at Downing Street on 18 December.
Here is the full story from Adam Forrest:
‘Regime change is coming’, says former top adviser
‘One of the most appalling things I have seen in my political life,’ says Scotland’s deputy first minister
The leaked footage of Boris Johnson’s staff joking about a Christmas party shows the “contempt” Downing Street has for the public, Scotland’s deputy first minister has said.
John Swinney said the video footage is “one of the most appalling things” he had seen in his political career.
He also raised concerns that it could make people less likely to follow new Covid-19 restrictions.
He said: “That video last night is just one of the most appalling things I have seen in my political life.
“I think it shows contempt at the heart of Downing Street for members of the public, and that is exactly what you do not need at a time of national emergency and of the gravity that we face.
“So the experience that all of us are having to wrestle with in the handling of coronavirus, and particularly omicron, are dealt a very serious blow by the appalling behaviour by Downing Street, by UK government ministers who have quite clearly lied to the public about this party, and we need to recognise the seriousness of the threat that poses to our efforts on tackling coronavirus.”
‘It does look very bad’, says Tory MP
Conservative MP Peter Aldous has said the leaked footage of senior No 10 aides laughing about an alleged Christmas party looks “very bad” and casts “the situation in a different light”.
He told the Lowestoft Journal he had been inclined “to accept what the PM had said,” but added: “The news overnight and the release of the video does cast the situation in a different light.
“It does look very bad and gives the impression there is one rule for them and another for the rest of us.”
Plan B could be introduced as Cummings offers ‘dead cat’ prediction
Downing Street sources have told PA that “no decisions have been made” over the possible imposition of fresh restrictions to combat the spread of coronavirus.
Reports have suggested Plan B measures – including advice to work from home and the possible introduction of vaccine passports – may be introduced in response to rising cases and the spread of the omicron variant.
The timing of any announcement would be tricky while No 10 struggles to fend off accusations it hosted party in contravention of the Covid rules last December.
Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s former aide, has suggested the government may be pursuing a “dead cat” strategy to distract from the furore surrounding the prime minister and his inner circle.
Referring to the PM as a supermarket trolley, as he often does, Mr Cummings tweeted:
How Johnson has responded to party claims over past week
Ahead of PMQs and for those wanting to see how the PM has previously responded to claims of a Christmas party at No 10, here is footage from 1, 2 and 7 December:
Liz Truss: Government ‘follows Covid rules’
Foreign secretary Liz Truss has insisted the government does follow its own Covid rules after she faced question on why the public should obey coronavirus restrictions if No 10 staff were found not to have.
Asked about festive events after her Chatham House speech, Ms Truss said: “It’s in everybody’s interests that we follow the Covid rules. As to alleged events at No 10, I don’t know the details of what happened.
“I know that the prime minister’s spokesman answered those questions in detail yesterday, and I’m sure that there’ll be further discussion of that issue. My focus has been on foreign policy.”
She added: “We do follow the rules on Covid … On that particular issue, I’m not aware of the precise circumstances.”