Boris Johnson faces Conservative anger over switch to Covid Plan B amid Christmas party row
ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener reports on the continued political fallout from the leaked video on No10 Christmas party
Three alleged Covid-rule-breaking parties attended by people in government will be the subject of an official investigation, it has been confirmed in the House of Commons.
Boris Johnson is under significant pressure over claims of law breaking in government after ITV News revealed a video showing former press secretary Allegra Stratton laughing with No 10 staff about an alleged party in Downing Street on December 18 last year.
Two other gatherings will also be investigated, one reportedly attended by the PM in 10 Downing Street on November 27 and another at the Department for Education on December 10.
Listen to our coronavirus podcast on the inside scoop of how ITV News obtained the leaked video showing senior Downing Street staff joking about a Christmas party
The PM is facing anger from his own MPs, not only over the alleged rule breaking, but because he hastily triggered a switch to his Plan B for Covid restrictions amid the furore about parties last year.
He announced on Wednesday that work-from-home guidance will return, Covid health certificates are to become mandatory in large venues and mask rules will be extended to combat the rapidly-spreading Omicron variant in England.
How does the electoral commission report add to the pressure already on the PM?
But many questioned whether the tightened restrictions were genuinely needed or being used a distraction from other matters facing the government.
For a week senior members of the government had insisted that no Covid rules were broken inside Downing Street, but Ms Stratton's comment in the video that the gathering "definitely wasn't socially distanced" threw those claims into serious doubt.
'This fictional party was a business meeting... and it was not socially distanced'
Ms Stratton has since resigned but questions remain about the event and a series of other parties alleged to have taken place when socialising indoors was banned this time last year.
Minister Michael Ellis told MPs that all ministers, special advisers and civil servants will be expected to cooperate with Cabinet Secretary Simon Case's investigation - and if any law-breaking is uncovered it will be referred to the police.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson has been accused of lying about the refurbishment of his 11 Downing Street flat after the Tory Party was fined £17,800 for failing to properly declare the donations that paid for it.
The news came on the same day Mr Johnson and his wife Carrie welcomed their second baby.
The couple announced the birth of a “healthy baby girl” at a London hospital earlier on Thursday. It is understood that the prime minister was present throughout the birth.
So strong was the feeling in government about the leaked video that a planned round of broadcast interviews with the health secretary were cancelled at the last moment.
Sajid Javid said he did not appear on programmes such as ITV's Good Morning Britain or BBC Breakfast because he was "upset and angered".
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he was “upset, even infuriated” while watching the video because his own father was ill in hospital over the festive season.
He said: “This time last year my dad was lying in hospital and I couldn’t go and visit him.“We didn’t know if he was going to make it.
“In fact he was in hospital for four months and he did make it, I’m pleased to report.
“So I was quite upset, even infuriated, watching the video the other night and it is absolutely right that it is properly and fully investigation."
Some Tories suggested the alleged rule-breaking in Number 10 would make people less inclined to follow the rules themselves.
But in a press conference on Wednesday evening, after a bruising PMQs, Mr Johnson urged people to follow his guidance.
Despite the strengthening of the rules set out in Plan B, Mr Johnson said Christmas parties and nativities could still go ahead legally this year.
Mandatory mask wearing will be extended to indoor public venues from Friday but will not be required in pubs and restaurants, while the guidance to work from home where possible will return on Monday.
The NHS Covid pass, which can be obtained by having two vaccines or a negative lateral flow test, will be introduced for entry to large venues from December 15.
One unusual loophole found in the regulations is that people will not be required to wear a mask in venues where people sing - so, under the letter of the law someone could walk around a supermarket maskless, so long as they are singing.
Mr Johnson was forced to insist the public understands the “vital importance” of the measures as he faced continued questions over events in the run up to last Christmas and Downing Street’s denials that the gathering on December 18 amounted to a party.
Announcing the restrictions simultaneously in the Commons, Health Secretary Sajid Javid was told to “resign” by senior Tory William Wragg fears remain that public support for the Tories had “taken a hit” following the Owen Paterson affair.
Conservative former chief whip Mark Harper added: “What I am really concerned about is that it is unquestionably the case that over the last few weeks the government’s credibility, whether it is on Paterson or on the Christmas parties, has taken a hit.
“Why should people at home listening to the prime minster and the Secretary of State do things that people working in Number 10 Downing Street are not prepared to do?”
The prime minister was also urged to step down over the party debacle by Labour MP Andy McDonald.
He told the Commons on Thursday: "Instead of Allegra Stratton carrying the can, will the PM, for once, in his privileged, narcissistic, cheating experience - do the right thing and resign?"
Tory MP Ben Bradley ruled out voting for Plan B which includes “discriminatory” vaccine passports, and former minister David Davis questioned “how are you going to prosecute people who don’t obey it given the four previous parties?”
“I think the real issue is on the authority of the government to enforce a, as it were, a new lockdown because people look at this and say why should we? It’s them and us again,” Mr Davis told ITV’s Peston.
At the Downing Street briefing, Mr Johnson denied suspicions he had brought forward the announcement to divert attention from the row and the leaked video, which forced the resignation of government aide Allegra Stratton.
“You’ve got to act to protect public health when you’ve got the clear evidence,” the prime minister said.
Earlier in the day he had apologised for the video of staff laughing - but didn't admit the party actually happened.
Mr Javid said the new restrictions were being imposed “with a heavy heart” but insisted they were necessary as he said there are 817 cases of Omicron confirmed in the UK, but that the true figure is estimated to be “probably closer to 10,000.”
He said they would be reviewed on January 5, before their expiry date of January 26.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned Omicron is spreading “rapidly” and it is possible hospital admissions from the new variant in England could exceed 1,000 per day – and still be increasing – by the end of the year.
Covid health certificates will apply to unseated indoor venues with more than 500 attendees, and outside where there are more than 4,000 people.
The prime minister said passes can be obtained with a negative lateral flow test or by having had two doses of a vaccine, but hinted this could change by saying “we will keep this under review as the boosters roll out”.
MPs are expected to be given a vote on the measures on Tuesday, during which a number of Tory rebels who have been angered by restrictions are poised to oppose the government.
But shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said Labour would “put public health first” and support the measures, meaning they will almost certainly be approved in the Commons, as he accused the prime minister of having “undermined public trust and confidence” at a “critical time”.