Boris Johnson has been told to resign after a video emerged appearing to show top Downing Street officials joking about a Christmas party they later denied occurred.
The Prime Minister was urged to stand down by the Westminster leader of the SNP, Ian Blackford, if claims made about the party turn out to be true – with the police now investigating.
Following a week of questions going largely unanswered, the allegations are gaining momentum after ITV published the new footage.
And the alleged incidents – said to have happened during lockdown or under Tier 3 restrictions last winter – are already being likened to Dominic Cummings’ infamous Barnard Castle trip, which infuriated the public earlier in the pandemic.
In the footage, key officials, including the then communications director Allegra Stratton, laugh about a ‘fictional’ party not being socially distanced and ‘cheese and wine’ ‘not being alright’ in a mock press conference – before she warns: ‘this is recorded’.
ITV said the video was filmed four days after one of the alleged parties, at which 40-50 people were ‘cheek by jowl’, according to the Daily Mirror.
It came at a time when police were shutting down events for ordinary people, while others were strictly sticking to guidance, as Covid-19 tore through the UK.
Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Police said on Tuesday evening: ‘We are aware of footage obtained by ITV News relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at a Government building in December 2020.
‘It is our policy not to routinely investigate retrospective breaches of the Covid-19 regulations, however the footage will form part of our considerations.’
Mr Johnson went on to U-turn on earlier promises and cancel Christmas – but the lockdown came too late to stop tens of thousands of people dying with Covid over the winter.
Mr Blackford, the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, said: ‘This video is damning and leaves the Prime Minister with a lot to answer for.
‘When every individual up and down the country was told to stay at home in order to protect the NHS, the Tories were instead having a Christmas party which, as a senior staff member has now confirmed, was “not socially distanced”.
‘If this is true, then the Prime Minister’s position is untenable and he must remove himself from office immediately.’
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Ministers in Mr Johnson’s Government have repeatedly ignored calls to resign over various scandals – but Health Secretary Matt Hancock did stand down after breaking social distancing guidelines.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called on Mr Johnson to ‘come clean and apologise’, adding that for aides ‘to lie and to laugh about those lies is shameful’.
Meanwhile Tony Blair’s former director of communications, Alistair Campbell, branded the PM the ‘crime minister’ and urged the police to investigate.
The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group said: ‘There are simply no words to describe how upsetting and shameful it is to then hear Boris Johnson’s team laughing about breaking the rules they had made, whilst others followed them and could only say goodbye to their loved ones through a screen.’
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Johnson had insisted no rules were broken at the alleged events – but did not repeat an official denial that a party took place.
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman has insisted ‘there was not a party’ but the PM declined to characterise the event during a visit to a prison in London on Tuesday.
‘What I can tell you is that all the guidelines were observed, continue to be observed,’ he said.
Asked if he investigated personally, Mr Johnson said: ‘I am satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times.’
The PM’s integrity has been repeatedly questioned during his career, and on Tuesday official letters appeared to contradict his claims not to have intervened in the Afghanistan evacuation to help evacuate dogs.
A string of ministers have also denied that there was any wrongdoing, including Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
Ministers are yet to explain how the alleged bashes complied with the rules in place at the time.
But the Daily Telegraph has reported that an archaic and little-known loophole may mean that the party could have indeed been within the rules.
The paper cites Joshua Rozenberg QC as saying section 73 of the Public Health Control of Disease Act 1984 suggests the restrictions would not apply in government departments and royal property, unless minsters specifically take steps to make them do so.
It is also unclear how Number 10 is defining a ‘Christmas party’.
The government has already faced a string of hypocrisy and sleaze allegations during the Covid crisis.
Meanwhile, thousands of ordinary people have been prosecuted for ignoring lockdowns, attending parties and breaking quarantine.
A day before one alleged party in Downing Street, London’s Metropolitan Police shut down a wedding attended by ‘nearly 40 people’.
‘Holding large gatherings could be the difference between life and death for someone else,’ the force said in a tweet.
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