Cabinet Minister Insists BoJo Followed COVID Rules With No. 10 Xmas Quiz
15:05 GMT 12.12.2021 (Updated: 15:28 GMT 12.12.2021)
Boris Johnson has suffered his first real slump in the polls since the 2019 election over allegations that Downing Street staff partied in breach of strict lockdown rules last Christmas. He now faces a major rebellion in next week's vote on new restrictions.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
did not break COVID-19 lockdown rules last year when he hosted a staff Christmas quiz at 10 Downing Street — so says a Cabinet minister.
Speaking to Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday morning, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi insisted the PM was "respecting the lockdown rules" when he played quizmaster via a video call at an office quiz for teams of up to six.
Leaked to The Sunday Mirror, details of the event fuelled existing accusations that Johnson had allowed parties at Downing Street in late 2020 — when strict lockdown rules limited family Christmas get-togethers to six people from no more than three households.
Johnson denied in Parliament on Wednesday that there had been any rule-breaking parties in Downing Street — including one claim of a shindig in his flat over Number 11. And he said Cabinet Secretary Simon Case would investigate the claims
, later clarified as covering three alleged parties.
Opposition Labour Party leader and former director of public prosecutions Sir Keir Starmer demanded a police investigation on top of the internal one, but the Metropolitan Police Service said there was insufficient evidence
Starmer claimed the row would undermine public willingness to follow new restrictions in the face of the Omicron variant — but pledged his party's support for them anyway.
On Saturday, Johnson's former special adviser Dominic Cummings, who was sacked last November after reported spats with the PM's wife, claimed photos existed
of parties at Number 10 and would "inevitably" come to light.
But Cummings' promise of a smoking gun against his former boss once again turned out to be something of a damp squib — although an unnamed "government source" told The Mirror that staff stayed late at their desks drinking wine.
"Nobody ever questioned whether this was against the rules or if we shouldn't be doing this", The Mirror's source said. "We all just went ahead and did it. At the time we didn't even click that what we were doing was so severely wrong. I've realised now that it was actually pretty outrageous".
A government spokesperson said: "The prime minister briefly took part virtually in a quiz to thank staff for their hard work throughout the year".
On Wednesday, former Downing Street Press Secretary Allegra Stratton resigned
from her current job for climate change minister Alok Sharma after video emerged of her "spinning" mock questions about Christmas parties at a rehearsal press conference.
12 December 2021, 06:29 GMT
Zahawi denied that Johnson had become a "liability" and had destroyed public confidence in — and compliance with — the government's health rules, and praised his hard work throughout the pandemic.
Labour chairwoman Anneliese Dodds demanded the PM come clean with all the details of conduct at Downing Street last Christmas.
Influential Conservative back bench MP Steve Baker, deputy chair of the anti-lockdown COVID Recovery Group, said it was "pretty obvious" that Johnson had not made sure his staff comply with the spirit of the rules.
Baker has said 67 Tory MPs oppose new measures
in response to the new, more-transmissible, yet mild Omicron variant, including controversial vaccine passports for admission to large public events or venues that can hold more than 500 people and advice to work from home where possible.
That could leave Johnson relying on Labour votes to push the measures through Parliament next week.
But he stressed: "I have absolutely no intention... of trying to remove a prime minister".
"I want to see Boris turn this situation around, I want to see him rescue his position and I want to see him go on to be a great success", Baker said. "But he's not going to do it by paying lip-service to rules".
Another Tory backbencher tweeted in support of BoJo, pointing out how the scandal was trivial compared to the 1960s Profumo affair that led to the resignation of Tory PM Harold MacMillan in 1963.
But Conservative comedian Dominic Frisby lambasted the PM in his latest song for hiking pandemic restrictions for a second Christmas running.