Fresh claims have emerged over an alleged Christmas bash in No 10 as the Prime Minister remained under intense pressure, fighting several fires threatening his party.
A senior Tory MP urged Boris Johnson to “get a grip” on matters following reports that Downing Street’s director of communications made a speech and handed out awards at the event said to have taken place on December 18 2020.
ITV News reported on Thursday that Jack Doyle, who was then deputy director of communications at No 10, addressed up to 50 people at a Christmas gathering said to have been held on that date.
It is understood that Mr Doyle spoke to the press office to thank them for their work, as he did every week, and presented some awards to mark the team’s efforts.
Downing Street refused to comment further than to say a fact-finding review was ongoing.
Mr Doyle has been approached for comment.
As the new allegations surfaced, a probe into reported Covid-rule busting gatherings in Government was branded a “sham” by Labour, while the party’s leader Sir Keir Starmer suggested the PM was not up to the job.
A tweet from his official account on Thursday night said: “Boris Johnson is unfit to lead our country.”
“Confident we’re going to win”
Sir Keir also told The Telegraph: “I’m confident we’re going to win the next general election, whether that’s in 2023 or 2024.
“So the question – and this is really the question that I think is central now – for the Cabinet, for ministers and for all Tory MPs, frankly, is are they prepared to endure the next two years of increased degradation of themselves and their party, being put out to defend the indefensible and bringing themselves and their party into further disrepute?
“Because this isn’t going to change – he’s unfit for office, it isn’t going to change. Or are they going to do something about it?”
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson faces the prospect of a growing rebellion over new Covid rules to curb the spread of the Omicron variant, as reports suggest more than 30 MPs may vote against the Government next week.
The Prime Minister has been fielding criticism from across the political spectrum in light of allegations that rules were flaunted at the heart of Government last year.
Mr Johnson announced on Wednesday that an internal investigation led by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case would look into reports of a staff gathering held in Downing Street just days before Christmas, when London was under Tier 3 restrictions.
The probe was subsequently widened to include another festive celebration and a reported staff leaving do.
Separately, Mr Johnson is facing questions over whether he misled an investigation into donations for refurbishments to his Downing Street flat after the Electoral Commission fined the Tories £17,800.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner accused the Prime Minister of having “lied” to his standards adviser Lord Geidt by saying he did not know who was behind the payment, but No 10 insisted Mr Johnson had been honest and followed the rules “at all times”.
Tory MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, who is treasurer of the 1922 Committee, said on Thursday that “the truth must come out” about the various allegations levelled at Downing Street.
He told BBC’s Newsnight: “What we need from all of this is a really straightforward version from the Prime Minister on all of these serious issues – whether it’s by investigation of the most senior (civil) servant Simon Case on the Downing Street parties, whether it’s by investigation by Lord Geidt on the donations to the Downing Street flat – all of these things need to be investigated and the truth must come out.”
He added: “The whole parties issue could have been investigated in a day or two, a week or so ago, and the correct version given – whoever it was who organised whatever it is that we don’t know or do know that happened.
“The truth should have been given and then the appropriate action against those who organised these parties – if that’s what they were, or gatherings… the appropriate disciplinary action should have been taken.
“And I think now as other commentators have said, the Prime Minister needs to get a grip on all of these matters.”
On Thursday night, following the latest claims, Ms Rayner said: “As more details emerge about the Downing Street Christmas party, the Government’s internal investigation has been exposed as the sham it is. The investigation has only just published its terms of reference and we are already seeing more details from the media than the Cabinet Office about the parties.”
Alongside the alleged December 18 party, Mr Case will include in his review a confirmed gathering at the Department for Education’s (DfE) Whitehall headquarters on December 10 last year, and a reported leaving event for a No 10 aide – allegedly attended by Boris Johnson – on November 27.
And the terms of reference for the investigation, published on Thursday afternoon, said “where there are credible allegations relating to other gatherings, these may be investigated”.
The two December dates coincide with when mixing between households in London was restricted, with England in a month-long lockdown during November.
Mr Case’s inquiry was ordered by the Prime Minister after a leaked video emerged showing Downing Street aides laughing about a “fictional” party at No 10 in December 2020.