Prime minister Boris Johnson has said that he has ordered an inquiry into the staff Christmas party which took place in Downing Street in December 2020.
The event, which allegedly occurred on December 18, 2020, was attended by “several dozen” individuals and included party games, food and drink, and lasted beyond midnight, the BBC reports.
However, Covid-19 restrictions in place at the time would not have allowed such a gathering to take place indoors, with London subject to Tier 3 restrictions during the festive season.
While the PM had previously suggested that he was “satisfied” no restrictions were broken and no such party took place, he has this week been forced to apologise after video footage emerged showing Downing Street staff joking about the party, recorded mere days after it had supposedly happened.
Allegra Stratton, a government adviser and former press secretary to the prime minister who was seen laughing and joking about the Downing Street party in the video, resigned this afternoon.
First reported by the Daily Mirror last week, news of the gathering has been met by fury from the general public and opposition MPs, and the anger has intensified since the video footage referencing the gathering was released.
Speaking at Wednesday's Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, Johnson said that he shared the anger of the public and had ordered an inquiry into whether Covid restrictions in place at the time were breached.
The inquiry will be chaired by cabinet secretary, Simon Case. Downing Street has declined to comment on media speculation that Case was among the party attendees.
The PM has also thrown his backing behind his head of communications and former press secretary, Jack Doyle, after news broke that he attended the December 18 party, during which he made a speech and handed out awards.
When asked to explain his previous denial of the party taking place, Johnson suggested that Downing Street staff had misled him and that he had been "repeatedly assured" that such a party had not taken place and that "no Covid rules were broken" at any time.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer hit out at the prime minister, questioning his moral authority.
He said: "Her Majesty the Queen sat alone when she marked the passing of the man she'd been married to for 73 years. Leadership, sacrifice - that's what gives leaders the moral authority to lead.
"Does the prime minister think he has the moral authority to lead and to ask the British people to stick to the rules?"
The episode has unsettled several backbench Conservative MPs, who feel that the controversy could undermine the government's authority to the point where the public may refuse to comply with any further Covid restrictions that could be implemented to curb the spread of the Omicron variant.
Reports suggest that a triggering of the Covid Winter Plan B restrictions, which would see vaccine passports implemented and a return to the work from home order, is imminent. The news has led to accusations from some quarters that the prime minister is using this as a diversion to distract the public from the outcry over the Christmas Party.
During Wednesday's PMQs, Conservative MP William Wragg suggested that the PM was planning to initiate Plan B without making a statement to MPs, and that "very few will be convinced by this diversionary tactic."
Wragg also suggested that introducing vaccine passports would "not increase uptake of the vaccine" but instead "create a segregated society."
Johnson responded by assuring that a decision would not be taken "without consulting the Cabinet" first.
According to Sky News, Johnson fears that if he does not bring in Plan B restrictions now, with the three-week review of the Omicron data set to have taken place next week, then he may regret it with cases of the new variant on the rise according to the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser.
The PM has already made face masks mandatory on public transport and in shops and other settings once more, and tightened international travel restrictions.
Meanwhile, Johnson's disgraced former senior aide, Dominic Cummings, has joined the accusing voices suggesting that the triggering of Plan B is a diversionary move, labelling it a "dead cat" to deflect attention away from the Downing Street Christmas Party.
Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons