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Downing Street Christmas party: Suffolk MP Dan Poulter says anyone involved should resign if it's proved they breached Covid rules



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Anyone who was involved in a Downing Street Christmas party should resign if it is proved that it breached Covid lockdown rules, a Suffolk MP has said.

Dr Dan Poulter, Conservative MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, said a Christmas party would have been a 'flagrant breach' of the Covid lockdown rules last year.

His comments come after a leaked video showing Downing Street staff joking about a festive gathering was published by ITV yesterday.

"It would be incompatible with having a position as a senior Downing Street official with a major role in devising and implementing Covid rules and restrictions and at the same time break those very same rules," Dr Poulter added.

"However, at this stage the facts about whether a party took place remain unclear.”

The MP said he was not present at Downing Street last Christmas and could not 'pass comment as to the accuracy or otherwise of the Christmas party story'.

Dr Dan Poulter MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich. Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography 2021
Dr Dan Poulter MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich. Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography 2021

"It is now for the Metropolitan Police to decide if there is sufficient evidence to open an investigation," Dr Poulter added.

"Whilst it is understandable that people sometimes do make mistakes about the Covid rules, a Christmas party would have been be a flagrant breach and if it proves to be the case that a party took place which was in breach of the Covid rules that were in place at that time, then it would be appropriate for the individuals concerned to resign their positions."

Meanwhile, Suffolk MP and former health secretary Matt Hancock has denied all knowledge of a Downing Street Christmas party during lockdown last year.

Mr Hancock was grilled by Good Morning Britain's Adil Ray and Susanna Reid this morning.The West Suffolk MP, who resigned as health secretary after his affair with aide Gina Colangelo was exposed by The Sun newspaper earlier this year, was asked if he thought 'for equality and fairness' that if anybody has broken the rules, they should lose their jobs as well.

"Well that's one of these questions that starts with 'if' and that shows that we just don't know," Mr Hancock said.

The MP, who represents Newmarket and Haverhill, insisted he did not 'know the facts' surrounding the controversy.

He said: "One of the things that I've learnt, especially being health secretary during the pandemic is that you need to get to the bottom of the facts. As I say, I don't know those facts.

Suffolk MP Matt Hancock has denied knowledge of an alleged Downing Street Christmas party during lockdown last year
Suffolk MP Matt Hancock has denied knowledge of an alleged Downing Street Christmas party during lockdown last year

"We've seen what the Prime Minister's said about it and I wish I could help you more but I can't because I wasn't there and the Prime Minister wasn't there, as far as we understand, if there was a party.

"I've seen something from the police in the newspapers saying that they'll take it into consideration, I think that's their wording, and it's absolutely a matter for them."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has since apologised for any offence caused by aides joking about a Christmas party but he insisted he had been repeatedly assured 'there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken' during Prime Minister's Questions this afternoon.

South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge said he shared the Prime Minister's frustration over the video.

"I entirely understand why people will be concerned at the video showing Downing St staff referring to a party that apparently took place when the country was in lockdown last Christmas," Mr Cartlidge said.

"The Prime Minister has asked Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, to investigate claims about the party.

MP for South Suffolk James Cartlidge
MP for South Suffolk James Cartlidge

"I would emphasise the frustration which the Prime Minister has himself expressed at the video, and which I share 100 per cent, especially given how many of my constituents in South Suffolk have contacted me to share their anguish after following the rules at the time, for example, avoiding seeing loved ones when they were poorly."

He added: "I think it is entirely right that an enquiry has been launched and I hope that this reports in good time. This is far from an ideal situation given the need to focus on the booster rollout and I know that the Prime Minister is doing everything possible to ensure we absolutely maximise the number of people getting jabbed."

And a Liberal Democrat district councillor has now called for his MP to apologise on behalf of the Conservative party.

David Beavan, Southwold councillor for East Suffolk Council, said: "Thérèse Coffey must condemn Boris Johnson's behaviour and apologise on behalf of her party.

"Boris Johnson's Conservative party is taking this country for fools. People in this area will see right through his poor excuses and evasive answers."

Mr Beavan said people in Ms Coffey's constituency of Suffolk Coastal spent their Christmas away from loved ones, with 'too many' losing family and friends to Covid.

"At a time of great sacrifice when the pandemic was at it's worst, it is disgraceful to think that people in Downing Street were laughing about holding a Christmas party," he added.

"Enough is enough. This government must be held accountable to an inquiry into all their rule breaking; from Barnard Castle to this latest episode. It cannot be one rule for them and another for the rest of us.”

Suffolk News has approached Ms Coffey and Suffolk's other MPs, who are all Conservatives - Tom Hunt, Peter Aldous and Jo Churchill - for comment.

In footage obtained by ITV News, the Prime Minister’s then press secretary Allegra Stratton and adviser Ed Oldfield, along with other aides, were filmed joking about a 'fictional' Downing Street party in December 2020.

Ms Stratton is seen answering questions at a mock press conference on December 22 about a party the previous Friday – the date of the alleged Covid rule-breaking gathering which is said to have been attended by dozens of colleagues while social mixing indoors was banned in London under Tier 3 restrictions.

Mr Oldfield can be heard asking Ms Stratton: “I’ve just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night, do you recognise those reports?”

Ms Stratton replied 'I went home' before appearing to consider what the correct answer should be.

During the rehearsal, filmed as part of a subsequently-abandoned plan for Ms Stratton to lead televised press briefings, one aide is heard saying: “It wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine.”

“Is cheese and wine all right? It was a business meeting,” Ms Stratton replied, to laughter in the room.

Ms Stratton then noted 'this is recorded', adding: “This fictional party was a business meeting… and it was not socially distanced.”

The Metropolitan Police confirmed officers are reviewing the leaked video in relation to 'alleged breaches' of coronavirus regulations.

An NHS England staffer has said she is 'incandescent' with anger at the video. She said she was working with Covid-19 patients that month, when her mother was admitted to her hospital following a fall.

“To say I’m angry… I’m incandescent. It’s the disrespect, it’s the one rule for us and another rule for them, that’s what’s the worst,” the staffer said.

“I see Allegra Stratton laughing up there and I feel sick, I feel disrespected, (like) I’ve been taken for a mug.

“I can’t put enough words together right now as to how appalling that behaviour is. It should have consequences.”