The Health Secretary has suggested questions over an alleged Christmas party held in No 10 during lockdown restrictions were not based on serious concerns.
Sajid Javid was responding to questions in the Commons on the Omicron variant of coronavirus when he was challenged over reports about the alleged party on December 18.
He was told by Labour MP and shadow minister Karl Turner (Hull East) that people would be “more enthusiastic” about any new measures if he “accepts there was a knees-up in No 10” and was to “fess up to that and apologise on behalf of the Prime Minister”.
Mr Javid said: “I thought it was going to be a serious question.”
On Monday the Prime Minister’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings said on Twitter it would be “v unwise for No10 to lie about this” and alleged that some political journalists were at parties in the Downing Street flat.
Mr Cummings stopped working for the Government in November 2020.
In the Commons, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said people in his Ilford constituency were being prosecuted for holding an indoor gathering on the same day.
He said: “Isn’t it time that the Government comes clean about the event in Downing Street on that same day, admit they broke the rules and apologise – or does the Secretary of State believe, as the Prime Minister appears to, that it’s one rule for them and another rule for everyone else?”
Mr Javid replied: “In terms of rules, of course they should apply to everyone, regardless of who they are.”
The Daily Mirror reported that two events took place in No 10 last year in the run-up to the festive season, including Boris Johnson giving a speech at a leaving do during November’s lockdown.
The other was said to be a staff party in December, where party games were played, food and drinks were served, and revelries went on past midnight.
At the time, the Tier 3 rules in place in London explicitly banned work Christmas lunches and parties where it is “a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted”.
Public confidence in health measures relies on confidence in those making them.
Residents in Ilford are being prosecuted for a gathering on 18 Dec 2020. The Prime Minister should just admit he also broke the rules and apologise.
One rule for him, another for everyone else… pic.twitter.com/NZRZcr2N97
— Wes Streeting MP (@wesstreeting) December 6, 2021
The policing minister earlier conceded he knew “nothing about” the reported gatherings but said he believed no rules were broken.
Kit Malthouse said on Monday he would take Downing Street’s word that all regulations were complied with during the reported bash on December 18 at “face value”, as Mr Johnson’s spokesman insisted “there was not a party”.
Mr Malthouse also suggested there may have been circumstances such as distancing between attendees that would have permitted the gathering – despite London being in Tier 3, banning social mixing indoors at the time.
No 10 was resisting growing pressure to explain what happened in Downing Street last year, as the Metropolitan Police considered complaints submitted by two Labour MPs.
Mr Malthouse told Sky News: “I know nothing about it – I’ve been assured by No 10 that no rules were broken if there was a gathering of any kind.
“No 10 are reassuring everybody that all rules were complied with during that period and I take that reassurance at face value, but no doubt if the police are alerted they will have a look and they will form a view and we’ll learn more about it in the days to come.
“The police should be investigating anything that is a historic crime to them.”
He conceded he was “not an investigator” when questioned on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about how the Christmas party could have been within the rules.
“I asked the question, was all the regulations complied with? I was reassured they were, I have to take that at face value, that’s absolutely what I’m sure is the case, it’s for others if they want to decide to take it further,” he said.
“They reassured me that all the regulations were followed and, of course, I believe them.”
He declined to say whether it would have been within the rules for BBC staff to have held a party with drinks, nibbles and party games.
But he added: “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 of space it was – there are all sorts of variations.”
His comments appeared to contradict Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, who a day earlier said a “formal party” would have been “clearly contrary to the guidance”.
Mr Raab also raised eyebrows by telling The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One on Sunday that police have been clear “they don’t normally look back and investigate things that have taken place a year ago”.
But Downing Street said he was referring to Scotland Yard’s statement saying officers do not routinely investigate “retrospective” breaches of the Covid regulations specifically.
However, court records showed police were prosecuting a 36-year-old man for holding a gathering of two or more people in Ilford, east London, on the same day as the alleged event in Downing Street.
The court list showed he is one of two people facing hearings before magistrates in Westminster on Wednesday, charged with breaching Tier 3 restrictions in December, while many more were being prosecuted for allegedly falling foul of Tier 4 rules introduced on December 20.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman declined to say whether an internal investigation had been carried out, but told reporters: “There was not a party, and Covid rules have been followed at all times.”
He added that Downing Street was still considering holding a staff party this year, despite Mr Raab ruling out one for the Ministry of Justice.
The spokesman said: “We haven’t confirmed any dates at the moment.
“I think there is an intention to have a Christmas party this year.
“There is nothing in the limited restrictions that we’ve introduced that would prevent Christmas parties from taking place.”
Families who lost loved ones during the pandemic have said they were “sickened” by the reports, with the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group urging the Prime Minister to apologise.