Boris Johnson is facing fresh claims he attended another party at Downing Street in breach of lockdown restrictions.
The Prime Minister has reportedly been interviewed as part of the ongoing investigation into so-called ‘partygate’ allegations, as yet another rule break in No 10 surfaced.
Mr Johnson is said to have attended a leaving do before Christmas 2020 during which he gave a speech to mark the departure of his defence adviser Captain Steve Higham, according to The Mirror.
No 10 has yet to respond to the latest claim and the Ministry of Defence has declined to comment.
A long line of rule-breaking party allegations
The leaving do claim is the latest in a long line of allegations about rule breaking in Downing Street, which are now being investigated by senior civil servant Sue Gray.
The PM is said to have “shared what he knows” with Ms Gray about the alleged No 10 parties as she prepares to publish her report into the claims of coronavirus rule flouting as soon as this week, the Daily Telegraph reports.
Last week Mr Johnson admitted he attended a “bring your own booze” garden party at Downing Street in May 2020 during England’s first lockdown, although he insists he thought it was a “work event”.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi defended said it was not true that the Prime Minister had known about the party held on 20 May 2020.
He told Sky News: “It’s not true that the Prime Minister knew about this. He implicitly thought this was a work event.”
He said Ms Gray must be allowed to carry out her inquiry into reports of coronavirus restriction-breaching events in Westminster, and that Mr Johnson had “submitted himself to that investigation”.
Mr Zahawi said he shared the anger of the public over the issue, adding: “I can absolutely say to you that the Prime Minister feels the pain.
“All I would say is we have to allow the investigation to take place. Why? Because that’s the fair thing to do – you don’t condemn a man without a thorough investigation.”
It has also been claimed that regular “wine time Fridays” were held in No 10 during the pandemic, with the weekly events said to be a “long-standing Downing Street tradition”.
These Friday night events reportedly continued while Covid rules banning indoor mixing between households were in place.
The Mirror reported that staff invested in a £142 drinks fridge to keep bottles of alcohol chilled, which was delivered through No 10’s back entrance on 11 December 2020, and that Boris Johnson was aware of the socialising
At the time, London was under ‘Tier 2’ restrictions which prevented people from mixing with other households indoors, only six people from different households were permitted to mix outdoors, and those who could work from home were urged to do so.
On Sunday, Mr Johnson’s sister, journalist and LBC presenter Rachel Johnson, defended the Prime Minister and told her listeners that he was “completely compliant” with Covid rules whenever they met under restrictions.
Referring to the May 20 2020 BYOB event, she said: “To my mind, if he did go out into the garden, and he has told us he did, for him that would have been work.”
PM’s top team set for overhaul
In a bid to survive the partygate storm, reports suggest Mr Johnson could overhaul his top team, with the likes of his principal private secretary Martin Reynolds, who sent an email inviting staff to enjoy the good weather in the No 10 garden in May 2020, being shown the door as part of a move said to have been dubbed “Operation: Save Big Dog”.
The Times said a bid to save Mr Johnson’s premiership would include an announcement putting the military in charge of preventing small boats from crossing the Channel, as the Prime Minister looks to push “populist” policies.
Other touted policy announcements include attempts to reduce the NHS backlog and freeze the BBC licence fee for two years, with Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries hinting that the current model for funding the public broadcaster could be scrapped altogether.
It comes as a sixth Tory backbencher, Tim Loughton, demanded that the Prime Minister resign over the weekend, citing the “terminal damage” the revelations have done to his reputation.
Others, such as former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, said it was for Ms Gray to determine what Mr Johnson knew about possible lockdown breaches in No 10, while newer MPs suggested the affair raised questions about the “moral authority” at the top of government.
Former justice secretary Sir Robert Buckland – who was sacked from the Cabinet by the Prime Minister in September – told Times Radio that it would be “a bridge too far” for the No 10 incumbent if it emerged in Ms Gray’s report that “people at the top of government” were involved in “organising and planning and absolutely openly disregarding the rules”.
For a Tory leadership contest to be triggered, 54 letters of no confidence in Mr Johnson need to be submitted by MPs to Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee, asking for a vote on his future.
Sir Graham does not publicly state how many letters he has received, but reports suggest around 20 may have already been handed in.