Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner has officially asked the UK’s top civil servant to investigate Christmas gatherings during lockdown at Downing Street last year.
Families of people who died of Covid said they are “sickened” by reports that Downing Street flouted lockdown restrictions to host a Christmas party at No 10 last year.
The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign group has demanded an apology from the prime minister while Rayner has told the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, to consider calling in the Metropolitan Police to investigate claims No 10 broke lockdown laws.
“You will no doubt understand the seriousness of the allegations made,” Rayner wrote in her letter to Case where she requested he look into the use of government property for parties, as well as the role of the prime minister in the gatherings.
Johnson has refused to deny the allegations, first reported by the Mirror newspaper, and seized upon by Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer and the SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford.
During Wednesday’s PMQs both leaders pressed Johnson about claims “several dozen” people partied in No 10 on December 18, a time when such events were banned.
‘Desperately trying to do what we could’ while No 10 partied
Spokesperson for the bereaved families, Safiah Ngah, told the BBC: “My Dad died in February from Covid-19, despite being in good health. The last Christmas period is sadly one I will never forget.
“One in 20 people in my borough had Covid-19 and my family were desperately trying to do what we could to keep each other safe. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough.
“To think that just a few miles away, Number 10 was throwing a Christmas party, with no care for the rules they had set, is sickening,”
Starmer said the event is another example of “one rule for them and another rule for everybody else”.
‘People shouldn’t be cancelling things,’ says PM
Johnson has tried to quell the confusion around holding Christmas parties this year after science ministers, George Freeman – Conservative MP for mid Norfolk since 2010 – admitted cancelling his department’s Christmas party, which will now be held over Zoom.
“People shouldn’t be cancelling things,” said Johnson, insisting people should not cancel their Christmas parties or school nativity plays because of Omicron. “[T]here’s no need for that at all.”
While receiving his Covid vaccine booster jab on Thursday (December 2), Johnson urged people to “continue as they are” within the new restrictions introduced for face masks in England and on travel.
Earlier, when asked about the confusion caused by Freeman’s decision to cancel his department’s party despite the government’s advice , the PM’s official spokesperson told reporters: “The prime minister has been very clear on this, on Christmas parties. We don’t want people to cancel such events and there is no government guidance to that end.”
The Independent reports the PM’s spokesperson “suggested No 10 has not organised a staff Christmas party” for this year.
British travellers face restrictions regardless of vaccination status
Elsewhere, British travellers and holidaymakers will be subject to tighter restrictions with reports that France, Spain, Portugal and the US are introducing new border rules to try and combat the Omicron variant.
The UK introduced its own new travel restrictions on Tuesday, having already declared a new red list of countries requiring quarantine.
Spain has closed its borders to all non-vaccinated British passport holders from today (December 2) while everyone arriving in France from Friday (December 3) will require proof of a negative PCR or antigen (lateral flow) test no matter their vaccination status. Portugal has already introduced the same requirement and anyone who fails to comply will be subject to a €300-€800 fine.
From next week all arrivals to the United States will have to show proof of a negative coronavirus test within 24 hours of boarding their flight.
Twenty-two cases of Omicron have been reported by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) but new data, reported by the Telegraph, suggests the real number may be three times higher.
The latest figures show 53,945 positive coronavirus tests were recorded in the UK on December 2 with a 2.8% rise in cases over seven days. The number of daily deaths reported on December 2 was 141, taking the total number of deaths to 145,281 (equivalent to a rate of 216.6 per 100,000 population).