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

Covid-busting party probe branded a ‘sham’ as new claims emerge
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner says more detail about alleged Christmas gatherings has emerged from the media than the Cabinet Office.

A probe into alleged COVID rule-busting parties in Government last year has been branded a “sham” as fresh claims emerged about a Christmas gathering reported to have taken place in Downing Street.

報告によると, No 10’s most senior spin doctor, Jack Doyle, made a speech and handed out awards at the alleged event on December 18 2020.

ザ・ 首相 announced on Wednesday that an internal investigation led by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case would look into reports of a staff gathering held at Downing Street on that date.

The probe was subsequently widened to include another festive celebration and a reported staff leaving do.

Jack Doyle in Downing Street (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

ITV News reported on Thursday that Mr Doyle, who was then deputy director of communications at No 10, addressed up to 50 people at the Christmas gathering – said to have been held on December 18.

It is understood that Mr Doyle, now Downing Street’s director of communications, 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.

Following the latest claims, Labour’s deputy leader アンジェラ・レイナー said the inquiry “has been exposed as a sham” as she argued more detail had emerged from the media than the 内閣府

Ms 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.

“We all know there was a party that broke the rules. The Conservatives think it’s one rule for them, and another for everyone else.

“The Prime Minister is unfit to lead.”

Downing Street refused to comment further than to say a fact-finding review was ongoing.

Mr Doyle has been approached for comment.

Alongside the alleged December 18 パーティ, Mr Case will include in his review a confirmed gathering at the Department for Education’s (DfE) Whitehall headquarters on December 10 昨年, and a reported leaving event for a No 10 aide – allegedly attended by Boris Johnson – on November 27.

And the terms of reference for the investigation, published on Thursday afternoon, 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.

Both the Prime Minister and Health Secretary had suggested Mr Case could choose to extend his investigation – a move he has decided to make – beyond the main allegation that a Christmas party took place in Downing Street only 24 hours before the Government announced Christmas was cancelled.

The latest announcement means that some claims, including that there was a party in Mr and Mrs Johnson’s No 11 flat on November 13 – the night the Prime Minister’s former chief aide Dominic Cummings departed – are not currently included in the scope of the review, but could be added at a later date.

A later statement to peers by Cabinet Office minister Lord True suggested “credible allegations” of socialising could still be probed, keeping the door open for the flat claims to be potentially delved into.

Answering an urgent question in the Commons, エリス氏は言った: “The primary purpose of the Cabinet Secretary’s investigation will be to establish swiftly a general understanding of the nature of the gatherings, including attendance, the setting and the purpose, and with reference to adherence to the guidance in place at the time.

“If required, the investigation will establish whether individual disciplinary action is warranted.”

The Paymaster General said that any evidence of potentially criminal behaviour “will be referred to the police and the Cabinet Office’s work may be paused”.

Ministers, special advisers and civil servants will be “expected to co-operate with this investigation”, said Mr Ellis, who added it would be for Mr Case to determine how long his inquiry lasts.

MPs were told the Cabinet Secretary was “not at any relevant gathering” included in the review.

Downing Street had refused on Wednesday to explicitly declare that Mr Case had not been at the December 18 イベント, where staff and aides are said to have drunk together, eaten cheese and swapped Secret Santa presents.

Fleur Anderson, Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister who asked the urgent question, called for the Government to “be straight with the British people” over what happened last year.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been dogged by questions over whether social gatherings were held in Downing Street while strict Covid rules were in place (Adrian Dennis/PA)

Conservatives also demanded answers over who had given reassurances to Mr Johnson that coronavirus regulations had been followed, with Kettering MP Philip Hollobone going so far as to suggest “possibly criminal” behaviour might have taken place.

Mr Case’s inquiry was ordered by the Prime Minister after a leaked video emerged showing Downing Street aides laughing about a “fictional” party at No 10 12月中 2020.

The Commons announcement means that an alleged staff leaving do on November 27, which the Daily Mirror said the Prime Minister attended to give a farewell speech, will be investigated.

Downing Street was asked on Thursday how long the Prime Minister allegedly stayed at the goodbye party.

His official spokesman said: “There is an ongoing piece of work by the Cabinet Secretary, I’m not going to comment on specific allegations while that’s ongoing.”

DfE has already conceded that its December party, which the Mirror has suggested former education secretary Gavin Williamson spoke at, was a mistake, with the department saying “it would have been better not to have gathered in this way at that particular time”.

その間, Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who was not in Government at the time the parties are said to have taken place, repeated his past comment that he had been given assurances by senior officials that no Covid rules were broken last year.

But the Cabinet minister, speaking to LBC, said that if the rules had not been broken, then “a party could not take place”.