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Was Downing Street lockdown ‘party’ snap taken from No 11 balcony?


A photograph exposing Boris Johnson, his wife and his aides at a lockdown-busting Downing Street gathering last summer was taken from a room used by Rishi Sunak and his team, it was claimed today.

Sources said the picture of the supposed party was likely captured from one of the state rooms used by the Chancellor and his staffers.

Meanwhile former shadow chancellor Ed Balls claimed the image was shot from ‘the 11 Downing Street first floor balcony’, which is thought to be outside an office used by Mr Sunak.

It comes as names for some of those at the event – where guests drank wine and dined out on a cheeseboard – were put forward.

Those pictured apparently included some of Mr Johnson’s top team – such as principal private secretary Martin Reynolds, private secretary Imran Shafi and his political secretary Declan Lyons.

Dominic Raab defended the Government this morning after the picture emerged last night of the ‘party’ during the first national lockdown.

The Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary stressed the garden was a ‘place of work’ and sometimes staff would have a ‘drink after a long day or a long week’.

The photo, obtained by the Guardian, showed Mr Johnson, his then-fiancee Carrie, and 17 other staff members in the garden on May 15, 2020, with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard on a table in front of the PM.

The PM and his wife – apparently holding their newborn baby Wilf – were seen sitting at a table with two people, while another four were pictured with bottles of alcohol at a nearby table and the rest on the lawn.

At the time – Friday May 15, 2020 – only two people were allowed to socialise outside, which has infuriated anti-lockdown politicians and Britons who suffered under tight restrictions. 

The picture was plastered across the front page of The Guardian this morning. Pictured on the right is Boris and Carrie, apparently holding their newborn baby, Wilf 

 

In an interview today, Dominic Raab incorrectly claimed that the PM had hosted a press conference on May 15 - the day of the gathering - when in fact it was held by Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured at the event)

In an interview today, Dominic Raab incorrectly claimed that the PM had hosted a press conference on May 15 – the day of the gathering – when in fact it was held by Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured at the event) 

Furious Brits share images of the loved ones they couldn’t see face-to-face – taken at same time PM held a cheese and wine ‘party’ in Downing Street

Angry Britons have revealed how they could only see loved ones through care home windows while Boris Johnson and staff had cheese and wine in the Downing Street garden.

The Prime Minister and his wife Carrie were pictured sitting at a table with two people while another 13 were pictured with bottles of alcohol nearby at a table and on the lawn on Friday May 15, 2020.

Downing Street has insisted it was not a social event, instead claiming staff were working in the garden in the afternoon and evening.

Dominic Raab also defended the Prime Minister today, saying that having a drink ‘after a long day or long week’ was not against the regulations when asked about the photo – and pointed out that Mr Johnson was wearing a suit.

The picture was taken while the UK was in lockdown, with only two people from different households being allowed to meet outside while socially distanced.

However, the photograph shows three groups of people – including Boris and Carrie – with bottles of wine and alcohol on their tables.

And furious Brits have now told of the sacrifices they were making to abide by lockdown restrictions on the same date.

Stephen Laughton revealed he could not see his dying mother because it was ‘against the rules’.

He said: ‘On the left is the last photo I have of my mum alive in May 2020. Living alone with serious illness, she faced the pandemic with stoicism.

‘We went for a walk around her local park. When she suggested sitting 2m apart in her garden, I said: better not, it’s against the rules.’

Dr Ajay Verma, a gastroenterologist, recalled holding a minute’s silence in a hospital ward in memory of those who had lost their lives in the pandemic.

He said: ‘On Friday 15th May 2020 at 1pm we held a minute’s silence on our ward (and throughout our hospital) in memory of those who died from Covid – little did we know that the PM & friends were enjoying a garden party that same afternoon.’

Insiders today claimed the angle of the photograph being just above the terrace at the back of 10 Downing Street suggested it was taken from one of the rooms used by Mr Sunak and his team.

One told MailOnline the picture was most likely shot next to some state rooms used by the Chancellor and his team for ‘ceremonial duties’.

Meanwhile former shadow chancellor of the exchequer and economic secretary to the Treasury Ed Balls tweeted he was ‘pretty sure’ it was taken from the No 11 first floor balcony.

A map of the layout of the offices on Downing Street from around the same time the photo was taken shows the terrace where the PM was sat was overlooked by a flat roof which it is believed can be walked on.

Rooms which have access to the balcony are marked on the plan as a library and next to it the Chancellor’s private office.

Mr Sunak’s private study – where Mr Johnson has worked during parts of the pandemic – is also understood to be nearby overlooking the terrace.

Names emerged for some of those shown in the image on Monday morning, with it believed to include some of Mr Johnson’s top team.

Mr Reynolds, the PM’s principal private secretary was outed by the Telegraph as the man gesturing to the right of his boss. 

He is understood to be seen in the picture wearing glasses while demonstrating with his hands, while a cheeseboard sits on a table in front of him.

Mr Reynolds has worked in government for over a decade, with him serving as the PM’s PPS since October 2019 after four years in the same role at the Foreign Office.

Before moving back to Britain, he was Deputy High Commissioner in Pretoria from 2001 to 2014 as well as a UK representative to the EU.

In his previous, pre-politics life, Mr Reynolds worked as a lawyer in the City, having read law at the College of Law, York, following an MA in Law at Cambridge and an undergraduate at Oxford University.

Another man said to be shown in the image is the Prime Minister’s Political Secretary Mr Lyons, a former special adviser for Michael Gove.

Mr Lyons is thought to be pictured sitting down at a table behind Mr Johnson on the terrace taking to three other men with what appeared to be a drink in hand.

The staffer started work as a desk officer in the Conservative Research Department at Conservative Campaign Headquarters before joining Mr Gove’s team at Defra. He is seen by some as a key ally of Mr Gove.

But he moved to the research and briefing team at Downing Street, working on media briefings for Cabinet ministers.

Mr Lyons stepped up when Ben Gascoigne went on paternity leave and was acting political secretary from last year – taking on the role permanently in May.

Private Secretary Mr Shafi is a third man believed to be shown at the Downing Street drinks, with him said to be pictured at the back of the garden in a white shirt and pale trainers.

Mr Shafi got a first class degree from Oxford University in philosophy, politics and economics from 2005, before he went on to gain an MPhil in International relations from Cambridge a year later.

He went straight from university to be Foreign Affairs Committee Specialist at the House of Commons before joining the Treasury in 2008.

He remained here for six years and had four different jobs – policy advisor, International Development & G20, assistant private secretary to the chief secretary to the Treasury, Head of North Sea Oil/Energy and Climate Change Tax Policy and senior policy advisor, Strategy, Planning and Budget Team.

The government has been approached for comment. 

Martin Reynolds, the PM's principal private secretary was outed by the Telegraph as the man gesturing to the right of his boss

Martin Reynolds, the PM’s principal private secretary was outed by the Telegraph as the man gesturing to the right of his boss

Another man said to be shown in the image is the Prime Minister's Political Secretary Declan Lyons, a former special adviser for Michael Gove

Another man said to be shown in the image is the Prime Minister’s Political Secretary Declan Lyons, a former special adviser for Michael Gove

Private Secretary Imran Shafi (centre) is a third man believed to be shown at the Downing Street drinks, with him said to be pictured at the back of the garden in a white shirt and pale trainers

Private Secretary Imran Shafi (centre) is a third man believed to be shown at the Downing Street drinks, with him said to be pictured at the back of the garden in a white shirt and pale trainers

D-day for Christmas: Boris braced to decide if he will impose Covid curbs BEFORE December 25 as Dominic Raab refuses to rule them out 

Boris Johnson is facing a crunch 48 hours to decide if he will impose new coronavirus curbs before Christmas as he faces a growing Cabinet revolt over a potential further crackdown to slow the spread of Omicron.

The Prime Minister has been presented with three options to tackle the variant amid surging case numbers, with the lowest level of intervention consisting of advice to limit household mixing indoors, according to The Telegraph.

The second level would see mandatory restrictions on household mixing, the return of social distancing and an 8pm curfew for pubs and restaurants while the third and toughest level would see a return to something close to a full lockdown.

Mr Johnson will today consider his next move, knowing that any decision to tighten Covid rules will spark a furious Tory backlash, with The Mirror reporting the PM has cleared his diary to hold meetings with scientists and his advisers.

At least 10 Cabinet ministers are said to be resisting further curbs because they have concerns about the accuracy of expert modelling on the spread of Omicron.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is one of the ministers to have expressed concerns about the projected numbers, according to The Times, after SAGE warned there could be 3,000 patients a day in need of hospital treatment without urgent action.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, told the Cabinet on a call on Saturday that curbs should be rolled out as soon as possible but one third of senior ministers are said to be against the move.

One Cabinet figure said that ‘hospitals are not being overwhelmed’ and ‘we’re in a battle to save Christmas’ with one minister having made clear they will quit if there is a return to lockdown.

Mr Johnson faces a race against time if he does want to tighten curbs before Christmas because Parliament is now in recess and it will take at least 24 hours to recall MPs to vote on any new measures.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab today refused to rule out additional restrictions before Christmas Day as he said he could not make ‘hard, fast guarantees’.

The Justice Secretary insisted ‘we will have a much better Christmas than last year’ but said ‘people will need to be careful and cautious’.

Tory MPs last night said any attempt to toughen rules before Christmas will provoke letters seeking to oust Mr Johnson as party leader.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid yesterday refused to rule out Covid measures coming into force before Christmas Day but ministers indicated they will not back new curbs.

The warnings from MPs and Cabinet ministers came just 24 hours after Lord Frost, up to now a close ally of Mr Johnson, dramatically quit as Brexit Minister slating ‘coercive’ Covid curbs and high taxes.

Lord Frost walked out with a parting shot at the ‘direction of travel’ and saying he had hoped the end of lockdown would be ‘irreversible’. His departure was described as a ‘watershed moment’ in what had been an extremely damaging week for Mr Johnson.

It came as the official number of confirmed cases of the Omicron variant yesterday rose by nearly 50 per cent to 37,000 in just 24 hours.

Families are desperate to spend Christmas together after last year’s Covid lockdown rules meant millions were forced to be apart or severely scale back their celebrations.

It is understood Mr Johnson is resisting calls for restrictions ahead of December 25, but there are mounting fears they will be imposed after that, spoiling New Year plans for millions. 

Ministers came out fighting after the picture emerged last night, claiming it was captured by someone with ‘an animus’ against the PM.

Mr Raab said the photo did not show a social occasion but people ‘having a drink after a busy set of work meetings’ – adding that the fact attendees were ‘all in suits, or predominately in formal attire’ backed this up. 

In one interview, he incorrectly claimed that the PM had hosted a press conference that day, when in fact it was Health Secretary Matt Hancock. 

He told Times Radio: ‘Downing Street used that garden as a place of work. They used it for work meetings. The photo is from a day when, I think, the Prime Minister had just done a press conference. And sometimes they’ll have a drink after a long day or a long week. And that’s not against the regulations.’

On Friday, No10 denied claims a social event involving wine, spirits and pizza had taken place both inside and outside Downing Street on May 15. Instead a spokesman said Mr Johnson ‘held a series of meetings throughout the afternoon’, including in the garden. 

But the new picture, obtained by The Guardian, raises serious questions over the assertion that this was merely a work event. It shows three groups of people – including Boris and his then-fiancée Carrie – with bottles of wine and alcohol on their tables.

Asked why Carrie, was at the event, Mr Raab said: ‘It is not just a place of work for all the staff that work in Number 10 and the Prime Minister, but it is also the the residence of the Prime Minister and his very young family. 

‘I genuinely don’t think it gets classified as a party because Carrie popped down and spent a little bit of time there with her husband.’ 

Mr Raab told Sky News that the garden was ‘used for work’, adding: ‘They’re all in suits, predominantly in formal attire.’ When questioned over this by presenter Kay Burley, he said: ‘I think a large number of them… to be honest with you… the Prime Minister in a suit, the officials there… Some of them have taken their jackets off.’ 

When asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether he believed ‘someone or some group’ was ‘dripping out leaks to bring Boris Johnson down’, Mr Raab said ‘it’s certainly being done with an animus’ but added he was against ‘speculating on these things’. 

In May last year, the UK was in lockdown and only two people from different households were allowed to meet outside – and they must be at a distance of two metres. Today’s revelation heaps further pressure on PM, who 51 per cent of Conservative voters in 2019 now regard as dishonest. 

Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves today said a description of the photo as a work meeting ‘defies all sense of reasonableness’.

Ms Reeves told Good Morning Britain: ‘Last year, the Government were partying, this year the Government’s hiding. We need leadership from this Government and that is desperately lacking today. This is a Government who set the rules for everybody else and yet think they don’t apply for them. It is not acceptable.’

Asked if she thinks Mr Johnson should step down, she said: ‘I think it is really difficult for the Prime Minister to set rules now and expect other people to follow them.

‘(It) is just so clear on multiple occasions now that him and his ministers don’t stick by the very rules that they are requiring the rest of us to stick by … I think, frankly, a lot of us are just sick of it.’

Meanwhile, Labour leader Keir Starmer said ‘serious questions’ need to be answered.

He told Sky News: ‘Everybody will have looked at that photograph and to suggest that that is a work meeting is a bit of a stretch by anybody’s analysis. I think there are very serious questions to be answered, but just look at the photo and ask yourself: is that a work meeting going on or is that a social event? I think the answer is pretty obvious.’

Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) said it was ‘mind boggling for Raab to claim this was a necessary meeting’, adding: ‘Yet again the Conservative party is taking the public for fools. The evidence is staring us all in the face. It is scary to think Dominic Raab is supposed to run our justice system when he can’t even see blatant wrongdoing in a photo.’

Jo Goodman, co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, insisted it is ‘exhausting’ for everyone across the country ‘who sacrificed so much to see the constant, flagrant disregard we have all been held in’.

She added: ‘We’re not sure how much more the Prime Minister expects us to take before he’ll accept that he has to be open with the public about these events.

‘This supposed work meeting, with no pen, paper or laptop in sight, instead replaced with vital cheese and wine, shows that he presided over a culture of believing that the rules applied only to other people since early in the pandemic.’ 

Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the Labour party, said that the photograph was ‘a slap in the face of the British public’. 

Rayner added: ‘The prime minister consistently shows us he has no regard for the rules he puts in place for the rest of us.

‘Alleged drinking and partying late into the evening [at No 10] when the rest of us were only recently getting one daily walk.’

The number of confirmed cases of Omicron in England increased by 69 per cent on the previous day's total - up 9,427 to 23,168, figures from the UKHSA showed today

The number of confirmed cases of Omicron in England increased by 69 per cent on the previous day’s total – up 9,427 to 23,168, figures from the UKHSA showed today

Covid hospital admissions have spiked by more than a third in a week in Britain's Omicron hotspot of London, official data shows. Some 199 infected patients were admitted to wards in London on Tuesday, the most recent day UKHSA figures are available for

Covid hospital admissions have spiked by more than a third in a week in Britain’s Omicron hotspot of London, official data shows 

Dominic Raab wrongly claims PM held press conference before No 10 lockdown snap as he insists staff were ‘using garden for WORK’

Dominic Raab today wrongly claimed Boris Johnson held a press conference at Number 10 before he and Carrie were pictured enjoying cheese and wine in the garden during a lockdown gathering with up to 17 people.

The PM and his wife – apparently holding their newborn baby, Wilf – were seen sitting at a table with two people, while another four were pictured with bottles of alcohol at a nearby table and the rest on the lawn.

At the time – Friday May 15, 2020 – only two people were allowed to socialise outside.

Today, Dominic Raab said the photo did not show a social occasion but people ‘having a drink after a busy set of work meetings’ – adding that the fact attendees were ‘all in suits, or predominately in formal attire’ backed this up.

In one interview, he incorrectly claimed that the PM had hosted a press conference that day, when in fact it was Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

He told Times Radio: ‘Downing Street used that garden as a place of work. They used it for work meetings. The photo is from a day when, I think, the Prime Minister had just done a press conference. And sometimes they’ll have a drink after a long day or a long week. And that’s not against the regulations.’

On Friday, No10 denied claims a social event involving wine, spirits and pizza had taken place both inside and outside Downing Street on May 15. Instead a spokesman said Mr Johnson ‘held a series of meetings throughout the afternoon’, including in the garden.

But the new picture, obtained by The Guardian, raises serious questions over the assertion that this was merely a work event. It shows three groups of people – including Boris and his then-fiancée Carrie – with bottles of wine and alcohol on their tables.

Asked why Carrie, was at the event, Mr Raab said: ‘It is not just a place of work for all the staff that work in Number 10 and the Prime Minister, but it is also the the residence of the Prime Minister and his very young family.

‘I genuinely don’t think it gets classified as a party because Carrie popped down and spent a little bit of time there with her husband.’

Mr Raab told Sky News that the garden was ‘used for work’, adding: ‘They’re all in suits, predominantly in formal attire.’ When questioned over this by presenter Kay Burley, he said: ‘I think a large number of them… to be honest with you… the Prime Minister in a suit, the officials there… Some of them have taken their jackets off.’

When asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether he believed ‘someone or some group’ was ‘dripping out leaks to bring Boris Johnson down’, Mr Raab said ‘it’s certainly being done with an animus’ but added he was against ‘speculating on these things’.

In May last year, the UK was in lockdown whereby only two people from different households were allowed to meet outside – and they must be at a distance of two metres. Today’s revelation heaps further pressure on PM, who 51 per cent of Conservative voters in 2019 now regard as dishonest.

It is the latest in a ‘partygate’ row over celebrations inside No 10, with Downing Street accused of holding four parties that broke Covid restrictions last year. 

Mr Johnson was forced to order a civil service enquiry, but the civil servant he chose to lead the injuiry quit after it emerged a quiz was held in his own department that he was aware of and spoke at.      

The Prime Minister suffered another hammer blow yesterday after his ally Lord Frost dramatically quit as Brexit Minister slating Covid curbs and high taxes. 

Lord Frost, up to now a close ally of Mr Johnson, walked out with a parting shot at the ‘direction of travel’ and saying he had hoped the end of lockdown would be ‘irreversible’.

In the new image, Boris and Carrie Johnson are seen sitting at a table with a cheeseboard and wine with two people – believed to be a civil servant and an aide. 

On the same day, the then Health Secretary Matt Hancock had held a press conference urging the British public to stick to the Covid rules and not to socialise in groups outside. 

While people were allowed to return to work at the time, guidance said social distances of two metres must be followed at all times and ‘only absolutely necessary participants should attend meetings and should maintain 2-metre separation throughout’.

A Downing Street spokesperson said on Sunday: ‘As we said last week, work meetings often take place in the Downing Street garden in the summer months. On this occasion there were staff meetings after a No 10 press conference.

‘Downing Street is the prime minister’s home as well as his workplace. The prime minister’s wife lives in No 10 and therefore also legitimately uses the garden.’ 

Meanwhile, Tory backbencher Brendan Clarke-Smith told MailOnline: ‘I can understand why people would want to investigate whether actual proper parties took place, but I think they are scraping the barrel a bit now.

‘I’d put it on par with people reporting their neighbours for going out for a walk for too long, going to the supermarket twice or somebody being photographed only 1.8 metres rather than 2 metres away from others.

‘They seem to forget that Number 10 is a workplace and they were also the first people to turn a blind eye to the violent BLM clashes and what went on in Hyde Park.

‘I think most people see this as overreaching and they are more bothered about the here and now.

‘The message I get on the doorstep is that people want to be able to get on with their lives, rather than living under the constant threat of restrictions.’ 

Downing Street has now been accused of holding five parties over lockdown, including a quiz attended by dozens of staff and which the Prime Minister helped to host on December 15 – three days before another Christmas party which is being investigated. 

No10 previously insisted that Downing Street were ‘often required to be in the office to work on the pandemic response’ during the various lockdowns, and therefore ‘those who were in the office for work may have attended virtually from their desks’.

But the Mirror said a message sent by No10’s head of HR on the night of the quiz advised that those who had stayed behind to take part ‘go out the back’ when they left. 

Mr Johnson said an inquiry would be held to investigate the allegations. But Cabinet Secretary Simon Case quit his role leading the inquiry into a number of alleged gatherings on Friday, after it emerged a quiz was held in his own department that he was aware of and spoke at.

MailOnline understands that one event was held on December 17 last year, with an email sent out to around 15 people in Mr Case’s Private Office titled ‘Christmas Quiz’. 

Whitehall heavy hitter Sue Gray has been installed in his place to carry out inquiries into three alleged gatherings at Downing Street and the Department for Education in November and December last year, when indoor mixing was banned.

The Johnsons were seen in the No10 garden at a table of cheese and wine with up to 17 people nearby during lockdown when only two people were allowed to socialise outside. They are seen together in October

The Johnsons were seen in the No10 garden at a table of cheese and wine with up to 17 people nearby during lockdown when only two people were allowed to socialise outside. They are seen together in October 

Simon Case

Sue Gray

 Whitehall heavy hitter Sue Gray (right) has been installed in Simon Case’s (left) place to carry out inquiries into three alleged gatherings at No10 and the Department for Education in November and December last year, when indoor mixing was banned

Is Boris’ New Year booster goal a bust? UK now needs to jab 2.1m people a day after missing 1m target for a week straight and 28-day delay after catching Covid means hundreds of thousands are being made ineligible every week

The UK’s goal to get every adult a Covid booster before the end of 2021 is slipping away with Britain now needing to boost 2.1million people per day to reach the target.

Boris Johnson pledged to massively ramp up the UK’s Covid booster rollout to deliver 1million jabs a day in an effort to stave off an Omicron wave and save the country from further restrictions.

Launching what he described as the ‘Omicron Emergency Boost’, Mr Johnson said at the time: ‘We’ll need to match the NHS’s best vaccination day yet – and then beat it day after day’.

But since the Prime Minister promised to increase the drive from December 13, the number of third Covid jabs delivered has continually failed to reach this 1million daily target.

Despite ministers boasting that booster numbers reached a record 900,000 this weekend, which itself is still 100,000 off target, on average 642,735 daily jabs have been delivered since Mr Johnson’s pledge, far below the 1million promised.

And with a total of 28million boosters administered as of Saturday, the latest available data, there are still 26million people waiting to get a jab.

This means Britain needs to more than double its booster numbers to 2.1million every day, including on Christmas Day and Boxing Day to achieve the end of year deadline.

It comes as the number of people eligible for a booster shot is starting to shrink as Covid cases grow rapidly due to the highly infectious Omicron variant.

NHS Covid vaccination guidelines state that people who catch Covid must wait 28 days from their positive test or first symptom before they can get the jab.

The terms of what was then Mr Case’s investigation said it could be widened to include any relevant allegations. 

Ex-No 10 chief of staff Gavin Barwell said he ‘can’t think from his time in government of a better person to put in charge of this review than Sue Gray.’

Meanwhile, Chris Bryant, chair of the Committee on Standards, said it appeared that no-one knew what was going on in Downing Street.

The Labour MP told BBC Breakfast the situation over the parties in Whitehall was ‘farcical’ and he said: ‘It feels a bit like Downing Street is completely dysfunctional. Nobody seems to know what’s going on.’ 

And Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said Ms Gray now has the task of restoring public trust. 

Ms Gray, who is second permanent secretary at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, was once described by BBC Newsnight’s then policy editor as ‘the most powerful person you’ve never heard of’.

Speaking to that same programme on Friday, Tory MP Richard Holden described her as ‘formidable’ and said she was ‘not a pushover’.

She oversaw the Plebgate inquiry in 2012 after ex-chief whip Andrew Mitchell was accused of calling a policeman a ‘pleb’ at the Downing Street gates, and was once described as ‘deputy God’ by then Labour MP Paul Flynn in a meeting the same year. 

A Downing Street spokesman said in a statement: ‘To ensure the ongoing investigation retains public confidence the Cabinet Secretary has recused himself for the remainder of the process.

‘The work will be concluded by Sue Gray, second permanent secretary at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

‘She will ascertain the facts and present her findings to the Prime Minister.’ 

Sources admitted that alcohol was consumed at desks with about six people present, and others participating virtually, but there was apparently no catering.

Lord Barwell told BBC Radio 4’s Today: ‘I can’t think from my time in government of a better person to put in charge of this review than Sue Gray.

‘She had the role in charge of propriety and ethics in government when I was chief of staff. I saw her handle a number of investigations in a way that was completely independent and her determination always to get to the truth and present the Prime Minister with all the evidence.

‘So for those of your listeners who don’t know who this person is, let me just give you my testimony that I think she is exactly the right kind of person and we can be confident that we will get the facts.’ 

Mr Bryant also said he had been impressed by Sue Gray, who was now leading the investigation, when he met her.

He urged her to hand any evidence she found of lawbreaking over to the police.

Schools face Covid disruption until EASTER: Education Secretary warns classes will be cancelled until spring because of staff sickness as he calls on retired teachers to help out TODAY

Schools will likely see disruption until Easter as a rise in Omicron cases sparks a wave of staff absences, Nadim Zahawi warned as he issued a desperate call for qualified teachers to sign up to help.

The Education Secretary is calling on qualified teachers – who left the profession or who pursued other careers – to apply on the Get Into Teaching website as soon as possible, ideally before Christmas Eve, so they can join the workforce in January.

Schools have been experiencing low attendance from both teachers and pupils ahead of the winter break, and Department for Education (DfE) officials admitted yesterday that they expect Omicron to bring about high levels of staff absence throughout the spring term.

The Government is now asking retired teachers to ‘come forward and join the national mission’ amid fears that the number of teachers forced into self-isolation by the coronavirus variant could lead to school closures or entire year groups being sent home.

He added: ‘If the rules are broken … if they were broken in any other line of work, the police would be investigating and I don’t know why the police aren’t investigating this situation.’

He said: ‘In the end, the final analysis has to be done by (a) completely independent person. I think that that should be the police.’

And Ms Rayner said: ‘At the moment, people are saying ‘which department didn’t have a party?”

She added: ‘It’s incredibly disappointing because we all know what was happening when these parties were going on, people couldn’t see their loved ones who were dying, and were making incredible sacrifices.

‘So I do think that the investigation has to get to the bottom, but I think that the evidence already is showing that Boris Johnson has set a tone for this government and has allowed this to happen under his watch.’

She said Ms Gray should hand over any evidence of law-breaking which she uncovers to the police.  

Ms Gray was previously director-general of propriety and ethics in the Cabinet Office from 2012 to 2018, and is seen as a figure who would not pull any punches in an inquiry. 

Former Tory MP and Cabinet office minister Oliver Letwin is reported to have said of Ms Gray: ‘It took me precisely two years before I realised who it is that runs Britain. Our great United Kingdom is actually entirely run by a lady called Sue Gray, the head of ethics or something in the Cabinet Office. Unless she agrees, things just don’t happen.’

She is also part of the panel deciding on who will be next chair of the media regulator Ofcom.

However, the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, said ‘having somebody else from the Civil Service marking their own isn’t good enough’.

Mr Blackford told the BBC’s Newsnight programme that ‘it needs to be someone from authority from outwith Government, from outwith the Civil Service. I would suggest that the best way to do that would be by having a judge-led inquiry’.

Ms Gray was brought in after the Guido Fawkes website reported on Friday that two Christmas parties were held in Mr Case’s department, the Cabinet Office, in December 2020, when restrictions were in place.

Although Mr Case did not take part he was ‘aware of what they were doing’ just outside his own personal office, and at one point stopped to ‘thank them for their hard work’ as he moved between meetings.  

A second event last December allegedly featured drinks for a group of people in Mr Case’s office before attendees continued the party elsewhere. However, the Cabinet Office denies that event took place.

The allegations surfaced as Tory chairman Oliver Dowden insisted that Mr Case’s inquiry will ‘vindicate’ Mr Johnson’s position that no rules had been broken.

He has been looking into alleged No10 Christmas party on December 18, as well as leaving dos and a Cabinet Office quiz. 

Boris Johnson ordered Mr Case to investigate last week after extraordinary footage emerged of his former press secretary Allegra Stratton and No10 aides giggling about a ‘party’ that was held in Downing Street last year.

The findings of Mr Case’s probe were expected by today, but they have been pushed back. 

The damaging scandal has been blamed for the Tories’ disastrous loss in the North Shropshire by-election overnight. 

Speaking to reporters on a visit in his Uxbridge constituency today, Mr Johnson insisted the public was more interested in other matters such as coronavirus, and suggested the media reporting on lockdown-busting parties had caused the Tories to lose the North Shropshire by-election.

He told broadcasters ‘what people have been hearing is just a constant litany of stuff about politics and politicians and stuff that isn’t about them’.

Now Moderna says its booster jab can beat Omicron: Third jab triggers 40-fold increase in antibodies in lab study

A third jab of the Moderna Covid vaccine can help protect against Omicron the company announced today.

The news comes as the UK stares down the barrel of further Covid restrictions as the spread of the Omicron variant caused cases of the virus in Britain to soar to 82,866 on Saturday, a 64.4 per cent rise on last week.

A lab study by the company found a third dose increases neutralising antibodies against Omicron around 37-fold, the firm announced.

Moderna said its preliminary data looking at Omicron was ‘reassuring’, though it will continue to develop a jab specific to the variant.

The company’s Covid vaccine is an mRNA jab, and has been mostly used in the UK when doses of the vaccine made by its competitor Pfizer are not available.

Earlier, Scottish National Party’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford called for Mr Case to be removed from the investigation and to resign.

Mr Blackford said: ‘The Prime Minister’s appointed lead investigator into the Downing Street parties has also been reported to have hosted a party in his office – whilst thousands were forced to spend the Christmas season apart as a result of necessary coronavirus restrictions. He, along with his inquiry report, must go.’

He said it was ‘vital there be an inquiry led by an independent arbitrator – someone who owes the UK government nothing’, and in a letter to the PM suggested it should be judge-led. 

Ms Rayner also said: ‘Boris Johnson as Prime Minister has set the tone for the civil service and the rest of government.

‘Which each new revelation there is growing evidence of a culture of turning a blind eye to the rules.

‘Labour made it clear when the investigation was launched that the person in charge should be uncompromised and able to make a fair and independent judgement. These fresh revelations put that into question.’

Mr Dowden told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I understand and I appreciate that there was a perception, particularly from the media coverage surrounding those alleged events, that we were not abiding by the rules.

‘I have to say to you that there is an ongoing inquiry by the Cabinet Secretary and I’m confident that that inquiry will vindicate the Prime Minister’s assertion that everything that happened was within the rules.

‘But I do appreciate the noise and the sound around that was something that was of concern to voters.’  

Mr Johnson was accused of breaking the rules imposed by his own government after it was revealed he acted as an impromptu quiz master in Downing Street amid Tier 2 restrictions last year. 

In an image published in the Sunday Mirror, Johnson is seen in front of a laptop in the No. 10 library closely shadowed by two colleagues, one draped in tinsel, the other wearing a Christmas hat.

The quiz is believed to have taken place on December 15 – just three days before the now infamous Downing Street party. 

Government sources cited by the Times said the Cabinet Secretary ‘would look at credible allegations of other gatherings and you can’t really say that a photo of the prime minister is not a credible allegation.’

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi defended the Prime Minister after it emerged Mr Johnson personally hosted a Christmas quiz in Downing Street last year.

Mr Zahawi said Mr Johnson had not broken any coronavirus rules by taking part in the event.

The leaked video

Ms Stratton apologising afterwards

Johnson ordered Mr Case to investigate last week after extraordinary footage emerged of his former press secretary Allegra Stratton and No10 aides giggling about a ‘party’ that was held in Downing Street last year (left – the leaked video; and right – Ms Stratton apologising afterwards)

Downing Street has insisted the quiz was ‘virtual’ but reports claimed many staff were huddled by computers in Number 10 as they conferred on questions and drank alcohol. 

At the time of the quiz, London was in Tier 2 which dictated there should be no mixing of households indoors, apart from support bubbles, and a maximum of six people outside.

The Sunday Mirror reported Mr Johnson surprised staff by turning up on screen as quiz master for one round lasting between 10 and 15 minutes. 

A Number 10 spokeswoman said: ‘This was a virtual quiz.

‘Downing Street staff were often required to be in the office to work on the pandemic response so those who were in the office for work may have attended virtually from their desks.

‘The Prime Minister briefly took part virtually in a quiz to thank staff for their hard work throughout the year.’  

Staff reportedly held a Christmas bash in Number 10 on December 18, with a leaked video – filmed four days after the alleged gathering – showing senior Downing Street aides joking about a ‘fictional’ party.

A second reported Downing Street event – an aide’s leaving do which is said to have taken place on November 27 – was allegedly attended by the Prime Minister, who The Mirror said made a speech.

Mr Case is investigating both alleged events, along with a festive celebration arranged at the Department for Education, which officials have admitted did take place and have expressed regret over.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has since confirmed that staff working for Therese Coffey drank alcohol and ate takeaways ‘late into the evening’ on a number of occasions while coronavirus restrictions were in place.

It comes after the Sunday Mirror reported political staff and officials frequently drank after work until the early hours of the morning, and ordered food to the Work and Pension Secretary’s office at the department’s Whitehall headquarters.

The DWP has confirmed there were times when alcohol was consumed in a work space outside the Cabinet minister’s Whitehall office but stressed it took place while work was continuing past normal employment hours.

A source said the desks in the office are socially distanced and there was ‘no party atmosphere going on’.    



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