Covid parties review to look at event PM said to have attended

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: WPA/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

A review into government staff parties in defiance of Covid rules has been widened to look at more events, including one that Boris Johnson is believed to have attended.

The investigation by Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, was initially unveiled on Wednesday as only looking into a party inside Downing Street on 18 December last year, following the release of video footage showing No 10 staff joking about it.

But responding to an urgent question in the Commons, the Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis said it would also examine another Downing Street event on 27 November last year – reported to be a leaving event for a staff member at which Johnson spoke – and one in the Department for Education on 10 December.

“As with all internal investigations if, during the course of the work any evidence emerges of behaviour that is potentially a criminal offence, the matter will be referred to the police and the Cabinet Office’s work may be paused,” Ellis told MPs.

“All ministers, special advisers and civil servants will be expected to cooperate with this investigation.”

Asked why the remit had expanded beyond the 18 December event, Johnson’s spokesman said this had been up to Case: “The prime minister asked him to look into that particular instance, and … the cabinet secretary has the ability to look into areas he feels are relevant or appropriate.”

Johnson announced the inquiry at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, saying he had been “shocked” by the video of his then press secretary, Allegra Stratton, joking with colleagues about the party, four days after it allegedly happened.

His spokesman clarified on Thursday that Johnson’s shock was not because he believed a party had happened, only about the comments. Asked what was shocking in joking about an event which did not happen, the spokesman said: “The prime minister has talked about the impression it would have given to the public, but I don’t have anything to add beyond that.”

Details have also emerged about another social event amid the lockdown last December, in the offices of the team running Shaun Bailey’s bid to be mayor of London.

Staff danced and drank wine at the event on 14 December 2020, the same day the then health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced the capital was going into tier 3 restrictions. At the time, social mixing indoors with anyone from another household was already banned.

Related: No 10 party: more Downing Street gatherings now under the spotlight

The event was held in the basement of the Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) on the floor from where Bailey’s campaign was being run. It was attended by people from the campaign, as well as other Tory staffers working on another floor. One of those there, the Guardian understands, now works in No 10.

Bailey attended and was given a Lego set as a Christmas present. A few days before the party, he had visited the Lego section of a John Lewis store on Oxford Street.

According to one of those present at the event, it was not a raucous affair but “a fairly standard office Christmas party”. But CCHQ bosses were said to be absolutely furious afterwards and gave attendees a “bollocking”.

As punishment, those on the Bailey campaign who were at the party were barred from the building on Matthew Parker Street for some time.

The Times also reported a door was damaged during the event.

Johnson is facing calls to resign if he is found to have misled MPs about the gatherings.

Tory MPs vented their frustration in the Commons. One, Philip Hollobone, said: “My constituents are very angry indeed about reports of Christmas parties in Downing Street during what was a very large second wave of Covid, and the behaviour was totally inappropriate and possibly criminal.”

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting