UK politics live: inquiry into No 10 partying to include leaving do where Boris Johnson gave speech

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “UK politics live: inquiry into No 10 partying to include leaving do where Boris Johnson gave speech” was written by Andrew Sparrow, for theguardian.com on Thursday 9th December 2021 12.14 UTC

Minister refuses to say who at No 10 reassured PM there was no party

Michael Ellis, the paymaster general and Cabinet Office minister, faced a barrage of criticism from opposition MPs when he was responding to the UQ earlier about the inquiry into the Downing Street parties. Here are some more points and quotes from the exchanges.

  • Ellis refused to say who the Downing Street person was who gave Boris Johnson an assurance that no rules were broken at the No 10 events. At PMQs Johnson said he had had been “repeatedly assured … that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”. The Conservative MP Peter Bone said he wanted to know who this person was, but Ellis said he did not have an answer.
  • Ellis insisted more than once that Johnson was a man “of honour and integrity”. He said he could say this because he had known the PM for many years.
  • The Conservative MP Desmond Swayne said it would be possible for a PM not to know about a party in Downing Street. He said:

Would it be helpful if there were a greater understanding of the fact that Number 10 is not a house, it is a front door behind which there is a suit of modern offices and meeting rooms, across three floors and it is perfectly possible to be in the rafters above Number 11, completely isolated from what else is happening in the building?

Ellis replied: “It is certainly true as a matter of geography that Number 10 Downing Street is a very large property with a multitude of offices and many, many people working inside it. In that sense, of course, geographically, he is absolutely correct.”

  • Many MPs expressed outraged about rule-breaking at No 10. The Conservative MP Bob Blackman said:

One of the key issues here is those that are making draconian rules not only have to live by the letter of the rules but by the spirit of the rules as well.

Philip Hollobone (Con) said:

My constituents are very angry indeed about reports of Christmas parties in Downing Street during what was a very large second wave of Covid, and the behaviour was totally inappropriate and possibly criminal.

And Labour’s Afzal Khan said:

Everyone experiences bereavement differently but for those of us who have lost loved ones during the pandemic there is a sentiment that increasingly unites us – and that is anger.

I am angry that while my mum lay dying in hospital, I could not hold her hand. I’m angry that I had to bury my father-in-law and mother-in-law two days apart.

Above all I’m angry that members of this government could be so flippant, so callous and so arrogant as to host not one, not two, not three but seven parties and then lie about it.

Michael Ellis.
Michael Ellis. Photograph: Tayfun Salcı/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock

Dominic Cummings, the PM’s former chief adviser, claims that the leaving do on 27 November in Downing Street (see 10.46am) wasn’t a party. Instead he wants the media to focus on a “victory party” reportedly held by the PM’s wife, Carrie, on the day Cummings left No 10.

The leaving do was for Cleo Watson, a close ally of Cummings’. Carrie Johnson, on the other hand, is someone he clashed with repeatedly at No 10, and who was given credit by many for forcing him out of government.

Labour says Johnson must explain ‘why he lied to public’ about refurbishment of his flat

Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, has said Boris Johnson must now explain “why he lied to the British public” about the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat. (See 11.02am.) In a statement she said:

Boris Johnson’s sleaze is corroding the office of prime minister.

The Paterson scandal, illicit Christmas parties in Number 10 and now dodgy payments from a multimillionaire Conservative party donor to fund his luxury Downing Street refurb.

It is one rule for them, and one rule for the rest of us, and Boris Johnson is at the heart of it.

It is right that the Electoral Commission has fined the Conservative party but the prime minister must now explain why he lied to the British public saying he did not know who was behind the Number 11 flat refurb – all the while he was messaging the donor asking for more money.

Boris Johnson has taken the British public for fools. He has not only broken the law but made a mockery of the standards we expect from our prime ministers.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, has just announced that the Christmas recess will start – as expected – on Thursday next week. Earlier there were rumours the recess might be brought forward (see 10.06am), but if that was a serious plan, it seems to have been quashed.

Ofsted cancels further inspections until new year

Ofsted has said it will cancel its inspections of schools, colleges and nurseries in England for the remainder of 2021. An email from Ofsted to headteachers this morning – reported by Schools Week– said:

Early years settings, schools and colleges will be using the final days of term to put in place these measures and consider contingency measures for January.

In order to do that contingency planning, the secretary of state for education and her majesty’s chief inspector have agreed that early years settings, schools and colleges will not be inspected next week unless there are safeguarding concerns.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said:

Ofsted inspections are the very last thing schools need given the current level of disruption due to Covid, and the pressure school leaders are under just to stay open and minimise disruption for learners. Pupils will be best served by their schools not being distracted by preparation for inspection.

Clearly, one week goes nowhere near far enough and we will be pushing for this suspension to be extended into the new year.

The Department for Education has updated its guidance to schools following the plan B announcement, advising leaders to allow some staff to work from home so long as it does not disrupt in-person teaching or support. Attendance remains mandatory for pupils and students.

Updated

Conservative party says it may appeal against Electoral Commission ruling

The Conservative party has said it may appeal against the Electoral Commission’s finding relating to the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat. (See 9.54am.) A party spokesperson said:

The Conservative party has received notification from the Electoral Commission that, in their judgement, the manner in which a payment was reported represented a technical breach of reporting requirements under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act.

We have been in constant contact with the Electoral Commission with regards to this matter and have sought their advice as to how the transaction should be reported since it was made. We are considering whether to appeal this decision and will make a decision within 28 working days.

Electoral Commission report raises questions about accuracy of PM’s evidence to Geidt inquiry into flat refurbishment

As Sky’s Sam Coates reports, the full Electoral Commission report into the funding of the refurbishment of Boris Johnson’s flat suggests that Johnson may have misled Lord Geidt, the independent adviser on ministerial interests, when he gave evidence to the Geidt inquiry into this.

We should get a response from No 10 at the lobby briefing at 11.30am.

Dame Angela Eagle (Lab) also ridiculed the idea that there was a distinction between a gathering and a party.

(Her point went down well in the Commons chamber although, as someone with experience of teenage children, I can report that some people of that generation do see a difference between spending Saturday night at a “gathering” – fewer than 20 people – and a larger “party”.)

Updated

Labour says all No 10 parties should be investigated

Fleur Anderson, the shadow Cabinet Office minister who tabled the urgent question, told Michael Ellis in her reply to him that he inquiry should cover all Downing Street parties.

And she said she was calling them parties because that is clearly what they were.

UPDATE: Anderson said:

I welcome the prime minister’s announcement that he’s asked the cabinet secretary to conduct this investigation.

I have asked for this urgent question as there are further urgent questions to be asked about the investigation, and I don’t think we need to call them alleged parties, they are the parties, held in the government department or by government ministers elsewhere. Are there more parties that we need to hear about?

Updated

Inquiry into No 10 partying to include leaving do where PM gave speech

The decision to include the party held on 27 November in the Simon Case investigation means that the cabinet secretary will be adjudicating on an event that Boris Johnson attended.

This is what my colleague Aubrey Allegretti has written about the leaving do on 27 November.

While England was still in the grip of its second national lockdown, a leaving do was organised in No 10 – said to have been for Cleo Watson, a former aide to Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings.

A source told the Guardian that Johnson personally attended and gave a speech, remarking on how full with people the room was, before leaving to continue working.

At the time, socialising in groups from different households was completely banned and people were ordered to work from home, though key workers could continue going into the office.

Updated

Inquiry into No 10 partying will cover two events at Downing Street, and one at DfE, MPs told

Michael Ellis, paymaster general in the Cabinet Office, is responding to the UQ on the inquiry into No 10 parties.

He repeats the point Boris Johnson made at PMQs yesterday when he said he was shocked by the No 10 Christmas party video.

The PM has been repeatedly assured that there was no party and no Covid rules were broken, he says.

But he says the government recognises the public anxiety and public indignation about this, in that it appears people setting the rules have not been following them.

He says the terms of reference of the investigation by Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, will be published today.

He says Case will investigate three gatherings: two at Downing Street, on 27 November and 18 December, and one at the Department for Education, on 10 December.

(This is an advance on yesterday, when No 10 implied at first that just the 18 December event would be investigated. But this also means several other parties, or party-type events, are not being investigated. See here, or the post at 9.28am.)

He says Case will investigate what happened at these gatherings, and whether disciplinary action is needed.

If evidence of a criminal offence emerges, it will be referred to the police, and the Cabinet Office inquiry will be paused.

He says all ministers, officials and special advisers will be expected to cooperate.

The findings will be published, he says.

But, in accordance with precedence, details any an disciplinary action relating to individuals will not be made public.

Updated

Sajid Javid has admitted having doubts about whether Covid rules were followed in Downing Street at an event last year alleged to have been a Christmas party, my colleague Aubrey Allegretti reports.

Scottish front pages this morning are dominated by the Downing Street Christmas part(ies) row, as they are in England, but in particular highlighting Scottish Tories’ condemnation of their colleagues’ antics.

The Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross – who announced on Thursday morning he is self-isolating after a member of staff received a positive lateral flow result – was certainly robust when he stated that Johnson “cannot continue in the highest office in the land” if he misled the Commons over whether the party took place.

Ross said he was “angry, annoyed and really disappointed” when the video of No 10 aides laughing about the alleged party emerged on Tuesday night, adding that it undermined public trust in the Covid rules.

It’s worth recalling that Ross resigned as a Scotland Office minister last May over Dominic Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle.

He was echoed by former leader Ruth Davidson, who said the UK government was “taking the public for fools”, adding “none of this is remotely defensible”.

And a few front pages nod to the fact that Johnson was following Scottish and Welsh measures as he announced a return to home working and the introduction of vaccine passports as Omicron cases continue to rise.

Updated

Hospital waiting lists and 12-hour A&E waiting times at record levels in England, NHS figures show

The number of people in England waiting to start routine hospital treatment has risen to a new record high, PA Media reports. PA has filed these highlights from the latest NHS England waiting time figures. PA says:

  • A total of 5.98 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of October 2021. This is the highest number since records began in August 2007. The number of people having to wait more than 52 weeks to start treatment stood at 312,665 in October 2021, up from 300,566 in the previous month and nearly double the number waiting a year earlier, in October 2020, which was 167,067.
  • A total of 16,225 people in England were waiting more than two years to start routine hospital treatment at the end of October 2021. This is up from 12,491 at the end of September and is around six times the 2,722 people who were waiting longer than two years in April.
  • The number of people having to wait more than 12 hours in A&E departments in England last month from a decision to admit to actually being admitted has risen to a new record high of 10,646. The figure is up from 7,059 in October and is the highest for any calendar month since records began in August 2010. Some 120,749 people waited at least four hours from the decision to admit to admission in November, down very slightly on the 121,251 in October.
  • The average response time last month for ambulances in England dealing with the most urgent incidents – defined as calls from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries – was nine minutes and 10 seconds. This is down slightly from nine minutes and 20 seconds in October, which was the longest average response time since current records began in August 2017.
  • Ambulances in England took an average of 46 minutes and 37 seconds last month to respond to emergency calls, such as burns, epilepsy and strokes. This is down from 53 minutes and 54 seconds in October, which had been the longest average response time since records began in August 2017.

Updated

Boris Johnson and his wife, Carrie, announce birth of ‘healthy baby girl’

The news keeps coming today. PA has just snapped this.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and wife Carrie have announced “the birth of a healthy baby girl at a London hospital earlier today”.

At least this is one surprise announcement that no one can dismiss as a dead cat.

Congratulations and best wishes to all of them.

Updated

The Daily Mirror’s Pippa Crerar says she is hearing suggestions that the government might bring forward the date of the Christmas recess. Sending MPs home early is a reliable way of minimising plotting, because it means MPs are no longer congregating in parliament.

Here is the full report from the Electoral Commission on its investigation into the funding of the PM’s flat refurbishment at Downing Street.

Louise Edwards, director of regulation at the Electoral Commission, said the fine imposed on the Conservative party reflected “serious failings” in its compliance with reporting requirements. She said:

Our investigation into the Conservative party found that the laws around the reporting and recording of donations were not followed.

We know that voters have concerns about the transparency of funding of political parties. Reporting requirements are in place so that the public can see where money is coming from, inaccurate reporting risks undermining trust in the system.

The party’s decisions and actions reflected serious failings in its compliance systems. As a large and well-resourced political party that employs compliance and finance experts, and that has substantial sums of money going through its accounts, the Conservative party should have sufficiently robust systems in place to meet its legal reporting requirements.

Conservative party fined £17,800 for not properly recording donation related to PM’s flat refurbishment

The Conservative party has been fined £17,800 by the Electoral Commission for failing to properly record a donation relating to the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat used by Boris Johnson. In a news release the commission says:

The Conservative Party has been fined £17,800 by the Electoral Commission after failing to accurately report a donation and keep a proper accounting record.

The sanction was imposed on the party, following the conclusion of a detailed investigation. The investigation looked at whether any transactions relating to works at 11 Downing Street fell within the regime regulated by the commission and whether any such funding was reported as required.

The investigation found that the party failed to fully report a donation of £67,801.72 from Huntswood Associates Limited in October 2020. The donation included £52,801.72 connected to the costs of refurbishment to 11 Downing Street. The full value of the donation was not reported as required in the party’s Q4 2020 donation report.

The commission also concluded that the reference in the party’s financial records to the payment of £52,801.72 made by the party for the refurbishment was not accurate.

The investigation found that decisions relating to the handling and recording of this donation reflected serious failings in the party’s compliance systems.

Updated

Cabinet Office miniser to respond to Commons urgent question about No 10 parties

The Commons authorities have announced that there will be an urgent question at 10.30am on the terms of the inquiry into Downing Street parties. The Labour MP Fleur Anderson has tabled it.

A minister from the Cabinet Office will respond, but it is not clear who it will be yet. The most senior minister there is Steve Barclay, but for a UQ like this they often send a more junior minister, like Michael Ellis or Nigel Adams, particularly if they want to minimise press interest.

I have amended the agenda at 9.28am to take this into account.

Updated

Johnson faces Tory revolt over plan B as fresh claims of lockdown-busting parties emerge

Good morning. Prime ministers get used to reading in the papers that they are having their worst every day/week since taking office – normally every couple of months or so – but sometimes it might be true, and this morning Alex Wickham in his London Playbook briefing says that last night Tories he spoke to “were unanimous that Wednesday was Johnson’s worst day politically since becoming prime minister”.

But today, in at least two respects, the situation continues to get worse.

First, the Times is reporting new allegations about lockdown-busting partying by the Tories (paywall). It focuses on two events, and it reports:

As anger grows among Tory MPs about an event held in No 10 on December 18 last year, The Times can disclose that Conservative Party staff danced and drank wine late into the night at another event that month.

Senior advisers and officials working in Downing Street also held a Christmas quiz, and one source claimed that Dan Rosenfield, Johnson’s incoming chief of staff, took part …

On December 14 about 25 people gathered in the basement of Conservative headquarters in Westminster. The event was organised by the campaign team of Shaun Bailey, who was running for mayor of London. Bailey attended the party, at which people wore festive hats and he received a Lego set as a Christmas present from a donor.

Revellers damaged a door and staff were disciplined. No 10 aides were said to have been among those present.

At the time London was in the Tier 2 level of restrictions, meaning all socialising indoors between households was banned …

At about the same time, a Christmas quiz is understood to have been organised for officials and Conservative advisers working for the prime minister, with invitations sent out in advance.

Yesterday No 10 initially said the inquiry by Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, would just focus on the 18 December Downing Street party, but at the press conference later in the day Boris Johnson said Case could look at other things, and the Times story will add to the pressure on him to extend the remit of his investigation.

And, second, the Tory rebellion over the move to plan B is serious, and growing. As Jessica Elgot reports, Sajid Javid, the health secretary, was heckled from his own side in the Commons last night as he announced the move to plan B. Johnson seems to have made the situation worse at the press conference by calling for a debate on mandatory vaccination and this morning on the Today programme Marcus Fysh, the Conservative MP, denounced the introduction of Covid passports as a “disgrace”. He said:

Of course I’ll vote against it. Everybody should vote against it. This is a fundamental thing about what sort of society we want to live in.

It’s a disgrace that they’re pursuing that, utter disgrace.

Johnson is in no danger of losing the vote next week, because Labour will support him. But a prime minister who loses the support of a substantial proportion of their own MPs on the key issue of the day loses authority.

Here is the agenda for the day.

10.30am: A Cabinet Office minister responds to an urgent question about the inquiry into No 10 parties

Around 11.15am: Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, takes questions in the Commons on next week’s business.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

Around 12.15pm: Dominic Raab, the justice secretary and deputy prime minister, makes a Commons statement on delivering justice for victims.

12pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, takes questions in the Scottish parliament.

Afternoon: Kate Forbes, the Scottish government’s finance secretary, makes a budget statement in the Scottish parliament.

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Updated

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