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Boris Johnson claims No 10 lockdown cheese and wine snap showed ‘people at work, talking about work’

A leaked photo of Downing Street staff eating cheese and drinking wine in the No 10 garden during the first lockdown showed ‘people at work, talking about work’, Boris Johnson has said.

The Prime Minister’s claims came after the Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab had stressed the Downing Street garden was a place of work.

The photo, obtained by the Guardian, showed Mr Johnson, his then-fiancee Carrie, and 17 other staff members in the garden on May 15, 2020, with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard on a table in front of the Prime Minister.

Names of some of those at the event have been forward, with those pictured apparently including the then Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who had earlier that day urged Britons to follow rules and not meet more than one person outside, and Mr Johnson’s former chief advisor Dominic Cummings, according to The Telegraph.    

Responding to broadcast questions about the photo, the Prime Minister said: ‘Those were people at work talking about work.’

He added: ‘This is where I live, it is where I work. Those were meetings of people at work, talking about work.’

The Prime Minister stressed that it was ‘vital’ to focus on the latest public health messaging about Covid, encouraging people to get their booster jab, or come forward if they are unvaccinated.

He also said the Government ‘won’t hesitate to take action’ if further measures are needed to curb the spread of Omicron.

On Monday morning, Mr Raab stressed the garden was a ‘place of work’ and that it was not ‘against the regulations’, and a Downing Street spokesman said the photo showed colleagues ‘meeting to discuss work’.

The Justice Secretary told Times Radio: ‘Downing Street used that garden as a place of work. They used it for work meetings. The photo is from a day when, I think, the Prime Minister had just done a press conference.

‘And sometimes they’ll have a drink after a long day or a long week. And that’s not against the regulations.’

Boris Johnson claims the No 10 lockdown cheese and wine photograph showed ‘people at work, talking about work’

The picture was plastered across the front page of The Guardian this morning. Pictured on the right is Boris and Carrie, apparently holding their newborn baby, Wilf

The picture was plastered across the front page of The Guardian this morning. Pictured on the right is Boris and Carrie, apparently holding their newborn baby, Wilf 

Sources today claimed the picture of the supposed party was likely captured from one of the state rooms used by Chancellor Rishi Sunak and and his staffers. 

Meanwhile former shadow chancellor Ed Balls claimed the image was shot from ‘the 11 Downing Street first floor balcony’, which is thought to be outside Mr Sunak’s office. 

No 10 has insisted work meetings often took place in the garden, with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman saying: ‘These were individuals in Downing Street – officials, staff – who were meeting after the most recent press conference that day, so meeting out of hours.

‘There were meetings taking place both inside and outside No 10.

‘This shows colleagues who were required to be in work meeting following a press conference to discuss work.’

Asked why the Prime Minister’s wife was there, the spokesman said: ‘Downing Street is also a private residence for both the Prime Minister and Chancellor.

‘The Prime Minister’s wife has use of her garden. It is effectively her garden.’

At the time the photo was taken, restrictions on meeting others were still in place and earlier that day, then-health secretary Matt Hancock had told the daily coronavirus briefing: ‘People can now spend time outdoors and exercise as often as you like – and you can meet one other person from outside your household in an outdoor, public place. But please keep two metres apart.’

When asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether he believed ‘someone or some group’ was ‘dripping out leaks to bring Boris Johnson down’, Deputy Prime Minister Mr Raab said ‘it’s certainly being done with an animus’, but added he was against ‘speculating on these things’.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said ‘serious questions’ need to be answered about the photo.

He told Sky News: ‘Everybody will have looked at that photograph and to suggest that that is a work meeting is a bit of a stretch by anybody’s analysis.

In an interview today, Dominic Raab incorrectly claimed that the PM had hosted a press conference on May 15 - the day of the gathering - when in fact it was held by Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured at the event)

In an interview today, Dominic Raab incorrectly claimed that the PM had hosted a press conference on May 15 – the day of the gathering – when in fact it was held by Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured at the event) 

Was Downing Street lockdown ‘party’ snap taken from No 11 balcony? Claims picture was shot outside rooms used by Treasury staff – as Raab says it was captured by someone with ‘an animus’ against PM 

By James Gant and Rory Tingle for MailOnline 

A photograph exposing Boris Johnson, his wife and his aides at a lockdown-busting Downing Street gathering last summer was taken from a room used by Rishi Sunak and his team, it was claimed today.

Sources said the picture of the supposed party was likely captured from one of the state rooms used by the Chancellor and his staffers.

Meanwhile former shadow chancellor Ed Balls claimed the image was shot from ‘the 11 Downing Street first floor balcony’, which is thought to be outside Mr Sunak’s office.

It comes as names for some of those at the event – where guests drank wine and dined out on a cheeseboard – were put forward.

 

The revellers apparently included some of Mr Johnson’s top team – such as his principal private secretary, his private secretary and his political secretary.

Dominic Raab defended the Government this morning after the picture emerged last night of the ‘party’ during the first national lockdown.

The Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary stressed the garden was a ‘place of work’ and sometimes staff would have a ‘drink after a long day or a long week’.

The photo, obtained by the Guardian, showed Mr Johnson, his then-fiancee Carrie, and 17 other staff members in the garden on May 15, 2020, with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard on a table in front of the PM.

The PM and his wife – apparently holding their newborn baby Wilf – were seen sitting at a table with two people, while another four were pictured with bottles of alcohol at a nearby table and the rest on the lawn.

At the time – Friday May 15, 2020 – only two people were allowed to socialise outside, which has infuriated anti-lockdown politicians and Britons who suffered under tight restrictions.  

Insiders today claimed the angle of the photograph being just above the terrace at the back of 10 Downing Street suggested it was taken from one of the rooms used by Mr Sunak and his team.

One told MailOnline the picture was most likely shot next to some state rooms used by the Chancellor and his team for ‘ceremonial duties’.

Meanwhile former shadow chancellor of the exchequer and economic secretary to the Treasury Ed Balls tweeted he was ‘pretty sure’ it was taken from the No 11 first floor balcony.

‘I think there are very serious questions to be answered, but just look at the photo and ask yourself: is that a work meeting going on or is that a social event? I think the answer is pretty obvious.’

Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) said it ‘mind boggling for Raab to claim this was a necessary meeting’, adding: ‘Yet again the Conservative party is taking the public for fools. The evidence is staring us all in the face. It is scary to think Dominic Raab is supposed to run our justice system when he can’t even see blatant wrongdoing in a photo.’

Jo Goodman, co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, insisted it is ‘exhausting’ for everyone across the country ‘who sacrificed so much to see the constant, flagrant disregard we have all been held in’.

She added: ‘We’re not sure how much more the Prime Minister expects us to take before he’ll accept that he has to be open with the public about these events.

‘This supposed work meeting, with no pen, paper or laptop in sight, instead replaced with vital cheese and wine, shows that he presided over a culture of believing that the rules applied only to other people since early in the pandemic.’

The alleged gathering is one of a number which have been reported across Whitehall during coronavirus restrictions.

Senior civil servant Sue Gray has been tasked with investigating the reports after Cabinet Secretary Simon Case was removed from the probe after it was revealed he had known about a quiz held in his department. 

In May last year, the UK was in lockdown whereby only two people from different households were allowed to meet outside – and they must be at a distance of two metres. Today’s revelation heaps further pressure on the PM, who 51 per cent of Conservative voters in 2019 now regard as dishonest.  

Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves today said a description of the photo as a work meeting ‘defies all sense of reasonableness’.

Ms Reeves told Good Morning Britain: ‘Last year, the Government were partying, this year the Government’s hiding. We need leadership from this Government and that is desperately lacking today. This is a Government who set the rules for everybody else and yet think they don’t apply for them. It is not acceptable.’

Asked if she thinks Mr Johnson should step down, she said: ‘I think it is really difficult for the Prime Minister to set rules now and expect other people to follow them.

‘(It) is just so clear on multiple occasions now that him and his ministers don’t stick by the very rules that they are requiring the rest of us to stick by … I think, frankly, a lot of us are just sick of it.’ 

Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the Labour party, said that the photograph was ‘a slap in the face of the British public’. 

Rayner added: ‘The prime minister consistently shows us he has no regard for the rules he puts in place for the rest of us. Alleged drinking and partying late into the evening [at No 10] when the rest of us were only recently getting one daily walk.’

It is the latest in a ‘partygate’ row over celebrations inside No 10, with Downing Street accused of holding four parties that broke Covid restrictions last year. 

Mr Johnson was forced to order a civil service enquiry, but the civil servant he chose to lead the inquiry quit after it emerged a quiz was held in his own department that he was aware of and spoke at.      

The Prime Minister suffered another hammer blow yesterday after his ally Lord Frost dramatically quit as Brexit Minister slating Covid curbs and high taxes. 

Lord Frost, up to now a close ally of Mr Johnson, walked out with a parting shot at the ‘direction of travel’ and saying he had hoped the end of lockdown would be ‘irreversible’.

In the new image, Boris and Carrie Johnson are seen sitting at a table with a cheeseboard and wine with two people – believed to be a civil servant and an aide. 

On the same day, the then Health Secretary Matt Hancock had held a press conference urging the British public to stick to the Covid rules and not to socialise in groups outside. 

While people were allowed to return to work at the time, guidance said social distances of two metres must be followed at all times and ‘only absolutely necessary participants should attend meetings and should maintain 2-metre separation throughout’.

A Downing Street spokesperson said on Sunday: ‘As we said last week, work meetings often take place in the Downing Street garden in the summer months. On this occasion there were staff meetings after a No 10 press conference.

‘Downing Street is the prime minister’s home as well as his workplace. The prime minister’s wife lives in No 10 and therefore also legitimately uses the garden.’ 

The Johnsons were seen in the No10 garden at a table of cheese and wine with up to 17 people nearby during lockdown when only two people were allowed to socialise outside. They are seen together in October

The Johnsons were seen in the No10 garden at a table of cheese and wine with up to 17 people nearby during lockdown when only two people were allowed to socialise outside. They are seen together in October 

Simon Case

Sue Gray

 Whitehall heavy hitter Sue Gray (right) has been installed in Simon Case’s (left) place to carry out inquiries into three alleged gatherings at No10 and the Department for Education in November and December last year, when indoor mixing was banned

The number of confirmed cases of Omicron in England increased by 69 per cent on the previous day's total - up 9,427 to 23,168, figures from the UKHSA showed today

The number of confirmed cases of Omicron in England increased by 69 per cent on the previous day’s total – up 9,427 to 23,168, figures from the UKHSA showed today

Meanwhile, Tory backbencher Brendan Clarke-Smith told MailOnline: ‘I can understand why people would want to investigate whether actual proper parties took place, but I think they are scraping the barrel a bit now.

‘I’d put it on par with people reporting their neighbours for going out for a walk for too long, going to the supermarket twice or somebody being photographed only 1.8 metres rather than 2 metres away from others.

‘They seem to forget that Number 10 is a workplace and they were also the first people to turn a blind eye to the violent BLM clashes and what went on in Hyde Park.

‘I think most people see this as overreaching and they are more bothered about the here and now.

How many parties is the Government alleged to have held last year and when did they happen? 

PARTIES IN DOWNING STREET 

No10 garden drinks – May 15: The Prime Minister and his wife – apparently holding their newborn baby, Wilf – were seen sitting at a table with two people while another 13 were pictured with bottles of alcohol nearby at a table and on the lawn on Friday May 15, 2020. 

Dom’s Gone bash – November 13: Dominic Cummings alleges that the PM held a gathering at his grace-and-favour flat on November 13 last year, the day the adviser was ousted from Downing Street. Mr Cummings also suggested there had been ‘other flat parties’.    

Leaving do – November 27: The Prime Minister reportedly gave a speech at a packed Number 10 leaving do for a ‘senior aide’. Sources claimed that ’40 or 50 people’ were present.

Christmas party – December 18: Staff in Downing Street are believed to have held a Christmas party, with reports that dozens of people attended the event, some wearing festive jumpers and exchanging Secret Santa presents. London had been placed into Tier 3 restrictions on December 16 – the highest level of curbs on freedoms at the time which banned people from different households mixing indoors. Downing Street has said Boris Johnson did not attend the event.  

Quiz night – December: Sources told the BBC that a separate Christmas quiz event was held for Number 10 staff at some point in December. Everyone was apparently invited to attend and to form teams. One source said some people attended virtually via Zoom but others did attend in person and sat in groups of six. Downing Street has insisted the quiz was ‘virtual’. 

… AND ELSEWHERE IN WHITEHALL  

December 10: Then-education secretary Gavin Williamson hosted a Department for Education party for ‘up to 24 people’ on December 10. The gathering, which included food and drink, took place in the department’s canteen. The department has admitted the event happened.  

December 14: About 25 people gathered in the basement of the Conservative party’s Matthew Parker St offices in Westminster. The Times reported last night that advisers at Conservative campaign headquarters held an event with Shaun Bailey, the party’s unsuccessful candidate for mayor of London this May.  

‘The message I get on the doorstep is that people want to be able to get on with their lives, rather than living under the constant threat of restrictions.’ 

Downing Street has now been accused of holding five parties over lockdown, including a quiz attended by dozens of staff and which the Prime Minister helped to host on December 15 – three days before another Christmas party which is being investigated. 

No10 previously insisted that Downing Street were ‘often required to be in the office to work on the pandemic response’ during the various lockdowns, and therefore ‘those who were in the office for work may have attended virtually from their desks’.

But the Mirror said a message sent by No10’s head of HR on the night of the quiz advised that those who had stayed behind to take part ‘go out the back’ when they left. 

Mr Johnson said an inquiry would be held to investigate the allegations. But Cabinet Secretary Simon Case quit his role leading the inquiry into a number of alleged gatherings on Friday, after it emerged a quiz was held in his own department that he was aware of and spoke at.

MailOnline understands that one event was held on December 17 last year, with an email sent out to around 15 people in Mr Case’s Private Office titled ‘Christmas Quiz’. 

Whitehall heavy hitter Sue Gray has been installed in his place to carry out inquiries into three alleged gatherings at Downing Street and the Department for Education in November and December last year, when indoor mixing was banned.

The terms of what was then Mr Case’s investigation said it could be widened to include any relevant allegations. 

Ex-No 10 chief of staff Gavin Barwell said he ‘can’t think from his time in government of a better person to put in charge of this review than Sue Gray.’

Meanwhile, Chris Bryant, chair of the Committee on Standards, said it appeared that no-one knew what was going on in Downing Street.

The Labour MP told BBC Breakfast the situation over the parties in Whitehall was ‘farcical’ and he said: ‘It feels a bit like Downing Street is completely dysfunctional. Nobody seems to know what’s going on.’ 

And Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said Ms Gray now has the task of restoring public trust. 

Ms Gray, who is second permanent secretary at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, was once described by BBC Newsnight’s then policy editor as ‘the most powerful person you’ve never heard of’.

Speaking to that same programme on Friday, Tory MP Richard Holden described her as ‘formidable’ and said she was ‘not a pushover’.

She oversaw the Plebgate inquiry in 2012 after ex-chief whip Andrew Mitchell was accused of calling a policeman a ‘pleb’ at the Downing Street gates, and was once described as ‘deputy God’ by then Labour MP Paul Flynn in a meeting the same year. 

A Downing Street spokesman said in a statement: ‘To ensure the ongoing investigation retains public confidence the Cabinet Secretary has recused himself for the remainder of the process.

‘The work will be concluded by Sue Gray, second permanent secretary at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

‘She will ascertain the facts and present her findings to the Prime Minister.’ 

Sources admitted that alcohol was consumed at desks with about six people present, and others participating virtually, but there was apparently no catering. 

Covid hospital admissions have spiked by more than a third in a week in Britain's Omicron hotspot of London, official data shows. Some 199 infected patients were admitted to wards in London on Tuesday, the most recent day UKHSA figures are available for

Covid hospital admissions have spiked by more than a third in a week in Britain’s Omicron hotspot of London, official data shows 

The lockdown restrictions in place at the time of the Downing Street ‘cheese and wine party’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the country from Downing Street on May 10, 2020, to set out the first, gradual steps towards the loosening of restrictions.

He praised those that had ‘shown the good sense to support those rules overwhelmingly’ and described the ‘immense suffering’ the country was having to endure.

Rules, though, remained steadfast and schools were still closed at the time of the speech.

To that effect, Mr Johnson confirmed the introduction of bigger fines for those found to be flouting restrictions. They rose from £60 to £100, doubling for each offence up to a maximum of £3,200.

All non-essential High Street shops and businesses, including restaurants, remained closed and people were ordered to stay home unless for essential purposes.

Only two people from different households being allowed to meet outside while socially distanced 

The Government was also urging those who could work from home to do so, while commuters were told to avoid public transport.    

Lord Barwell told BBC Radio 4’s Today: ‘I can’t think from my time in government of a better person to put in charge of this review than Sue Gray.

‘She had the role in charge of propriety and ethics in government when I was chief of staff. I saw her handle a number of investigations in a way that was completely independent and her determination always to get to the truth and present the Prime Minister with all the evidence.

‘So for those of your listeners who don’t know who this person is, let me just give you my testimony that I think she is exactly the right kind of person and we can be confident that we will get the facts.’ 

Mr Bryant also said he had been impressed by Sue Gray, who was now leading the investigation, when he met her.

He urged her to hand any evidence she found of lawbreaking over to the police.

He added: ‘If the rules are broken … if they were broken in any other line of work, the police would be investigating and I don’t know why the police aren’t investigating this situation.’

He said: ‘In the end, the final analysis has to be done by (a) completely independent person. I think that that should be the police.’

And Ms Rayner said: ‘At the moment, people are saying ‘which department didn’t have a party?”

She added: ‘It’s incredibly disappointing because we all know what was happening when these parties were going on, people couldn’t see their loved ones who were dying, and were making incredible sacrifices.

‘So I do think that the investigation has to get to the bottom, but I think that the evidence already is showing that Boris Johnson has set a tone for this government and has allowed this to happen under his watch.’

She said Ms Gray should hand over any evidence of law-breaking which she uncovers to the police.  

Ms Gray was previously director-general of propriety and ethics in the Cabinet Office from 2012 to 2018, and is seen as a figure who would not pull any punches in an inquiry. 

Simon Case’s replacement? The ethics chief from ‘Plebgate’ storm 

Sue Gray has been described as the most powerful civil servant you have never heard of.

In her former job as director-general of propriety and ethics in the Cabinet Office she had enormous power and long experience in Westminster scandals, and developed a fearsome reputation among ministers and officials.

She dealt with complaints against ministers on behalf of the Cabinet Secretary and Prime Minister.

Her inquiry into the so-called Plebgate affair led to the resignation of minister Andrew Mitchell.

Her investigation into Damian Green led to his forced resignation after she discovered he had lied about pornography found on his Commons computer.

From 2018 to 2021 she served as the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Finance at the Northern Ireland Executive.

She returned to London to head up work on the Union earlier this year.

Former Tory MP and Cabinet office minister Oliver Letwin is reported to have said of Ms Gray: ‘It took me precisely two years before I realised who it is that runs Britain. Our great United Kingdom is actually entirely run by a lady called Sue Gray, the head of ethics or something in the Cabinet Office. Unless she agrees, things just don’t happen.’

She is also part of the panel deciding on who will be next chair of the media regulator Ofcom.

However, the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, said ‘having somebody else from the Civil Service marking their own isn’t good enough’.

Mr Blackford told the BBC’s Newsnight programme that ‘it needs to be someone from authority from outwith Government, from outwith the Civil Service. I would suggest that the best way to do that would be by having a judge-led inquiry’.

Ms Gray was brought in after the Guido Fawkes website reported on Friday that two Christmas parties were held in Mr Case’s department, the Cabinet Office, in December 2020, when restrictions were in place.

Although Mr Case did not take part he was ‘aware of what they were doing’ just outside his own personal office, and at one point stopped to ‘thank them for their hard work’ as he moved between meetings.  

A second event last December allegedly featured drinks for a group of people in Mr Case’s office before attendees continued the party elsewhere. However, the Cabinet Office denies that event took place.

The allegations surfaced as Tory chairman Oliver Dowden insisted that Mr Case’s inquiry will ‘vindicate’ Mr Johnson’s position that no rules had been broken.

He has been looking into alleged No10 Christmas party on December 18, as well as leaving dos and a Cabinet Office quiz. 

Boris Johnson ordered Mr Case to investigate last week after extraordinary footage emerged of his former press secretary Allegra Stratton and No10 aides giggling about a ‘party’ that was held in Downing Street last year. 

The leaked video

Ms Stratton apologising afterwards

Johnson ordered Mr Case to investigate last week after extraordinary footage emerged of his former press secretary Allegra Stratton and No10 aides giggling about a ‘party’ that was held in Downing Street last year (left – the leaked video; and right – Ms Stratton apologising afterwards)

D-day for Christmas: Boris braced to decide if he will impose Covid curbs BEFORE December 25 as Dominic Raab refuses to rule them out 

Boris Johnson is facing a crunch 48 hours to decide if he will impose new coronavirus curbs before Christmas as he faces a growing Cabinet revolt over a potential further crackdown to slow the spread of Omicron.

The Prime Minister has been presented with three options to tackle the variant amid surging case numbers, with the lowest level of intervention consisting of advice to limit household mixing indoors, according to The Telegraph.

The second level would see mandatory restrictions on household mixing, the return of social distancing and an 8pm curfew for pubs and restaurants while the third and toughest level would see a return to something close to a full lockdown.

Mr Johnson will today consider his next move, knowing that any decision to tighten Covid rules will spark a furious Tory backlash, with The Mirror reporting the PM has cleared his diary to hold meetings with scientists and his advisers.

At least 10 Cabinet ministers are said to be resisting further curbs because they have concerns about the accuracy of expert modelling on the spread of Omicron.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is one of the ministers to have expressed concerns about the projected numbers, according to The Times, after SAGE warned there could be 3,000 patients a day in need of hospital treatment without urgent action.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, told the Cabinet on a call on Saturday that curbs should be rolled out as soon as possible but one third of senior ministers are said to be against the move.

One Cabinet figure said that ‘hospitals are not being overwhelmed’ and ‘we’re in a battle to save Christmas’ with one minister having made clear they will quit if there is a return to lockdown.

Mr Johnson faces a race against time if he does want to tighten curbs before Christmas because Parliament is now in recess and it will take at least 24 hours to recall MPs to vote on any new measures.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab today refused to rule out additional restrictions before Christmas Day as he said he could not make ‘hard, fast guarantees’.

The Justice Secretary insisted ‘we will have a much better Christmas than last year’ but said ‘people will need to be careful and cautious’.

Tory MPs last night said any attempt to toughen rules before Christmas will provoke letters seeking to oust Mr Johnson as party leader.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid yesterday refused to rule out Covid measures coming into force before Christmas Day but ministers indicated they will not back new curbs.

The findings of Mr Case’s probe were expected by today, but they have been pushed back. 

The damaging scandal has been blamed for the Tories’ disastrous loss in the North Shropshire by-election overnight. 

Speaking to reporters on a visit in his Uxbridge constituency today, Mr Johnson insisted the public was more interested in other matters such as coronavirus, and suggested the media reporting on lockdown-busting parties had caused the Tories to lose the North Shropshire by-election.

He told broadcasters ‘what people have been hearing is just a constant litany of stuff about politics and politicians and stuff that isn’t about them’.

Earlier, Scottish National Party’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford called for Mr Case to be removed from the investigation and to resign.  

Mr Blackford said: ‘The Prime Minister’s appointed lead investigator into the Downing Street parties has also been reported to have hosted a party in his office – whilst thousands were forced to spend the Christmas season apart as a result of necessary coronavirus restrictions. He, along with his inquiry report, must go.’

He said it was ‘vital there be an inquiry led by an independent arbitrator – someone who owes the UK government nothing’, and in a letter to the PM suggested it should be judge-led. 

Ms Rayner also said: ‘Boris Johnson as Prime Minister has set the tone for the civil service and the rest of government.

‘Which each new revelation there is growing evidence of a culture of turning a blind eye to the rules.

‘Labour made it clear when the investigation was launched that the person in charge should be uncompromised and able to make a fair and independent judgement. These fresh revelations put that into question.’

Mr Dowden told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I understand and I appreciate that there was a perception, particularly from the media coverage surrounding those alleged events, that we were not abiding by the rules.

‘I have to say to you that there is an ongoing inquiry by the Cabinet Secretary and I’m confident that that inquiry will vindicate the Prime Minister’s assertion that everything that happened was within the rules.

‘But I do appreciate the noise and the sound around that was something that was of concern to voters.’  

Mr Johnson was accused of breaking the rules imposed by his own government after it was revealed he acted as an impromptu quiz master in Downing Street amid Tier 2 restrictions last year. 

In an image published in the Sunday Mirror, Johnson is seen in front of a laptop in the No. 10 library closely shadowed by two colleagues, one draped in tinsel, the other wearing a Christmas hat.

The quiz is believed to have taken place on December 15 – just three days before the now infamous Downing Street party. 

Government sources cited by the Times said the Cabinet Secretary ‘would look at credible allegations of other gatherings and you can’t really say that a photo of the prime minister is not a credible allegation.’

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi defended the Prime Minister after it emerged Mr Johnson personally hosted a Christmas quiz in Downing Street last year. 

Mr Zahawi said Mr Johnson had not broken any coronavirus rules by taking part in the event.  

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