A party of the sort that is alleged to have taken place inside Downing Street last December might not necessarily have broken the strict lockdown rules in place at the time, the policing minister, Kit Malthouse, has appeared to argue.
Malthouse’s comments contradicted those made by Dominic Raab, the justice secretary, who conceded on Sunday that a “formal party” of the sort reported would have been contrary to the then-Covid-19 guidance.
Malthouse also took a different view to Raab’s claim that the police “don’t normally look back and investigate things that have taken place a year ago”, saying it would be right for police to follow up any formal complaints about the event.
Questions about the gathering on 18 December, when London was in the top level of Covid restrictions, dogged Malthouse throughout a round of media interviews on Monday, one intended to showcase a new government strategy on drugs.
Malthouse was asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether the type of party reported inside Downing Street, involving dozens of people drinking, eating and playing games, would have contravened the rules if the BBC had done the same at the time.
He replied that this was not necessarily the case. He said: “You’re asking me a hypothetical question. I don’t know what the circumstances might have been, how far people would have been apart, what size and space it was. There’s all sorts of variations.”
Malthouse repeatedly dodged questions on how such a party could possibly have been in compliance with the rules, which explicitly barred any office gatherings not connected to work.
“The reassurances I have been given is that none of those rules were broken at Downing Street, that they complied with Covid regulations at the time,” he said.
Asked how this could be the case given Downing Street had not denied reports about the party, Malthouse said: “I wasn’t there. I don’t know. A description that hasn’t been denied doesn’t mean that’s what actually took place.”
Asked why No 10 had not denied such a party happened, Malthouse said: “I don’t know, you’d have to ask them.” Pressed on why he had not asked, he replied: “Well, I’m not an investigator. My job is to seek reassurance.” The controversy, he added, was primarily “of interest in the media”.
Asked if he believed Downing Street’s version of events, Malthouse said: “I’m comfortable with the reassurance they’ve given me, yes.”
He did, however, concede that the police should look into the matter if a formal complaint was made. Two Labour MPs have reported the alleged gathering at No 10 to the Metropolitan police.
“As policing minister, my view is that if offences are committed of any kind and reported to the police, there should be an investigation by the police,” Malthouse said in a separate interview with Sky News.
“They should examine it and decide whether they’re going to pursue it. That should be a decision for them, and not something that I ask a politician should seek to influence.”
He added: “The police should be investigating anything that is a historic crime that is reported to them.”