Extraordinary leaked footage showed staff joking about “cheese and wine” and “definitely” no social distancing – but cops will not investigate
Labour has slammed the Met Police over cops’ refusal to launch an investigation into a Downing Street Christmas party, saying police “ought to be knocking on doors”.
Pressure is building on Boris Johnson over alleged rule-breaking at the December 18 bash at No 10 last year, which took place while the UK faced lockdown curbs to protect the NHS.
Extraordinary leaked footage of staff joking about “cheese and wine” and “definitely” no social distancing emerged earlier this week, and led to the resignation of the PM’s Cop 26 spokeswoman, Allegra Stratton.
But Scotland Yard has said officers will not “commence an investigation at this time” as there is an “absence of evidence”.
Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting, however, said the Met’s claim “seems implausible” and police must “pursue this investigation without fear or favour and treat the Prime Minister and his staff as they would treat anyone else”.
“It seems implausible for the Metropolitan Police to argue there is no evidence that parties took place,” he told reporters.
“The police ought to be knocking on doors, taking statements and investigating people in No 10 in the way they would my constituents or anyone else in the country.
“They’ve got to pursue this investigation without fear or favour and treat the Prime Minister and his staff as they would treat anyone else. It can’t be one rule for the Prime Minister and another for everyone else.”
The Prime Minister has asked Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to “establish the facts” around the party and has claimed to be “furious” about the video.
A Met statement acknowledged it had received “a significant amount of correspondence” relating to the alleged breaches in the run up to Christmas last year but said they do not “provide evidence of a breach” of Covid rules.
Humphrey Nemar/Daily Star)
“Based on the absence of evidence and in line with our policy not to investigate retrospective breaches of such regulations, the Met will not commence an investigation at this time,” it added.
“The Met has had discussions with the Cabinet Office in relation to the investigation by the Cabinet Secretary. If any evidence is found as a result of that investigation, it will be passed to the Met for further consideration.”
Mr Johnson has repeatedly insisted that rules were followed in Downing Street since the claims first emerged about the December 18 party.
However, at Prime Minister’s Questions, he told the Commons he based that position on assurances from junior staff as he offered an apology.
Mr Johnson said: “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 that people who have been setting the rules have not been following the rules because I was also furious to see that clip.
“I apologise unreservedly for the offence that it has caused up and down the country, and I apologise for the impression that it gives.
“But I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken, and that is what I have been repeatedly assured.”
In a tearful statement outside her home, Ms Stratton apologised for her appearance in footage recorded just days after the alleged party.
She had been taking part in a mock press conference in preparation for the planned White House-style televised briefings she would front – a project which was ultimately abandoned.
In the footage obtained by ITV News, Ms Stratton and adviser Ed Oldfield, along with other aides, were filmed joking about a “fictional” Downing Street party.
A laughing Ms Stratton said: “This fictional party was a business meeting … and it was not socially distanced.”
Her appearance in the briefing room was in stark contrast to her emotional statement on Wednesday, where she told reporters: “My remarks seemed to make light of the rules, rules that people were doing everything to obey.
“That was never my intention. I will regret those remarks for the rest of my days and I offer my profound apologies to all of you at home for them.”
Jonathan Brady/PA Wire)
Ms Stratton, who had been working as Mr Johnson’s spokeswoman for the Cop26 climate summit, said she understood people’s “anger and frustration”.
“To all of you who lost loved ones, who endured intolerable loneliness and who struggled with your businesses, I am truly sorry and this afternoon I am offering my resignation to the Prime Minister.”
The Prime Minister’s decision to launch an investigation followed a week of official denials that the party took place when London was under Tier 3 restrictions – despite reports staff drank alcohol and exchanged Secret Santa gifts.
Downing Street’s official line has now shifted with the announcement of the Case inquiry, with the Prime Minister’s press secretary declining to repeat the statement that “there was no party”.
She said “it wouldn’t be right to comment further” while Mr Case was investigating.