Scotland Yard is facing calls to expand its investigation into alleged Covid breaches in No 10.
09 February 2022
Scotland Yard is facing calls to expand its investigation into alleged breaches of lockdown rules in No 10 after a picture emerged showing Boris Johnson near an open bottle of sparkling wine during a Christmas quiz.
The Mirror published a photo on Wednesday showing the Prime Minister and three members of staff – one wearing tinsel and another in a Santa hat – near what appears to be an uncorked bottle of prosecco and an open bag of crisps.
The event on December 15 2020, which Downing Street insists was a “virtual quiz”, is not one of those being investigated by the Metropolitan Police after officers were passed evidence from the Sue Gray inquiry.
The image added to the pressure on the Prime Minister after major Tory donor John Armitage suggested his leadership is past the point of no return.
Battling to stay in power in the face of Conservative unrest over partygate, Mr Johnson signalled to the Commons that laws requiring people in England with Covid-19 to self-isolate will be lifted within weeks.
But the Mirror publishing its latest photo during Prime Minister’s Questions prompted a challenge from shadow minister Fabian Hamilton.
The Labour MP said the image appears to show “one of the Christmas parties he told us never happened”, adding: “Will the Prime Minister be referring this party to the police as it is not one of the ones currently being investigated?”
Mr Johnson responded: “In what he has just said, I’m afraid he is completely in error.”
Challenged again during PMQs, Mr Johnson added: “That event already has been submitted for investigation.”
London was under Tier 2 restrictions at the time, which prohibited social mixing between different households indoors.
Official guidance said: “Although there are exemptions for work purposes, you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier.”
Ms Gray’s update into her inquiry revealed that police were investigating 12 events in Downing Street and wider government, but the “online Christmas quiz” was not considered to have “reached the threshold for criminal investigation”.
Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s hostile former chief adviser, tweeted: “There’s waaaaay better pics than that floating around, incl in the flat.”
Adam Wagner, a human rights lawyer who has been examining Covid laws, said: “I think there is no longer any justification for the police not to investigate this event.
“I imagine the reason decided not to investigate this gathering is because the (previous) image was ambiguous – the PM may have dialled in but not have been himself participating in an illegal gathering. But now it seems obvious from the photo he himself is participating in a social gathering.”
The Prime Minister’s press secretary insisted the event was a “virtual quiz” but was unable to say whether the photograph had been submitted to the Gray inquiry in evidence.
“I’m not going to get into precise evidence but she obviously had access to all the evidence she needed,” the press secretary said.
With police having received more than 300 photographs from Ms Gray’s investigation, Mr Johnson gave his firmest commitment to date to “immediately publish in full whatever” he is given by Ms Gray after all inquiries are concluded.
Earlier in the day, Mr Armitage, who has given more than £3 million to the Conservative Party, said leaders should quit if they lose their “moral authority” as he said “the lack of honour inherent in modern politics incredibly distressing”.
Asked by the BBC if he thinks Mr Johnson’s leadership is past the point of no return, the financier said: “Personally, yes.”
Mr Armitage, the co-founder of hedge fund Egerton Capital, suggested that Mr Johnson’s attempts to change his administration are not enough to win back support.
“What about a sense of personal responsibility? You know ‘I’m going to change my chief of staff and it will all be fine’. Oh, really?” he said.
The BBC reported that Mr Armitage has told the Conservative Party he will not be giving it any more money as things stand, but he plans to remain a member.
He has donated more than £500,000 to the Tories since Mr Johnson became Prime Minister, but he has also given money to Labour, including £12,500 in March.