Health secretary says there is a need to have investigation, and stresses ‘no one is exempt’ from rules
Sajid Javid has admitted having doubts about whether Covid rules were followed in Downing Street at an event last year alleged to have been a Christmas party.
The health secretary said it was right the gathering was being looked into after Allegra Stratton, the prime minister’s then spokesperson, resigned for being caught, in leaked footage, joking about the lack of social distancing there.
A string of parties attended by senior government figures have come to light over the past eight days, both from sources who spoke to the Guardian and in other media reports.
Javid said he did not know why Stratton had resigned but suggested it may have been out of embarrassment, given the footage shows her laughing and joking with No 10 aides when asked as part of a mock press conference about a party in the building on 18 December.
The event took place when London was in tier 2, the “high alert” Covid level, during which time indoor social mixing between households was banned.
Javid said the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, would have a “wide remit” to examine whether rules were broken.
He said he had had to rely on other people’s assurances there was no party and that no rules were broken, given he was a backbench MP at the time.
“I don’t know what actually happened or not,” Javid told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“I think there is a need to have an investigation, because I think there’s enough doubt that’s been thrown on this by the reports and by looking at that video.”
The health secretary was firm that the rules “apply equally to everyone”, when asked why people should follow new Covid restrictions announced by the government on Wednesday.
He said: “It couldn’t be more important that it is clear at all times that these rules, whatever they are, whether it was back then or the rules we talked about in parliament yesterday, they apply equally to everyone. No one is exempt, no one is above the law on this.”
Several of his own backbenchers raised concerns about whether people would stick to the new Covid rules during a heated session in the Commons on Wednesday.
A Tory MP said they had “never seen the backbenches like it” with Javid facing most opposition “from his own side” and some government frontbenchers deliberately asking to be given permission to miss the vote next week so they did not have to vote against the government.
Given how many parties are now under the spotlight, Javid said Case was “not just looking at a particular date” but “free to look at whatever dates he wants to consider”.
Explaining why he was absent from the morning round of broadcast interviews he was lined up on Wednesday, Javid said he had been “upset” by Stratton’s comments.
The health secretary said: “I spoke to my colleagues in No 10 and we actually agreed it is best to take some time to respond to the video in the way that the prime minister has now, by ordering an investigation by the cabinet secretary.
“And so the idea was to give some space to react but I’m pleased the prime minister has asked for an investigation, and I can see also why so many people would have been upset by that video.”