Police consider probe into Christmas quiz after photo emerges as others contacted over parties

Some in Boris Johnson's party are despairing at the drip drip of partygate revelations, Political Correspondent Romily Weeks reports

The Metropolitan Police is reviewing its decision not to investigate a Christmas quiz in No 10 on December 15 2020 after an image surfaced of Boris Johnson near an open bottle of Champagne.

The photo - published by the Daily Mirror - showed the PM and staff, one wearing tinsel, near the open bottle during a Christmas quiz on December 15, 2020.

It comes as the force announced it would start contacting people about potential rule-breaking events, held on eight other occasions, by the end of this week.

The December 15 event had not initially been included in this investigation, but the force said in a statement on Wednesday: "The MPS previously assessed this event and determined that on the basis of the evidence available at that time, it did not meet the threshold for criminal investigation. That assessment is now being reviewed."

With regards to the other alleged events, formal questionnaires are set to go out to more than 50 people believed to have taken part.

The investigation, called Operation Hillman, is progressing "at pace" police said.

ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston picks out the key parts of the Met's statement on the plan to contact more than 50 people. He writes:

This is the most interesting part of the Met's statement about Operation Hillman, its investigation into the Downing Street parties.

"It should be noted that being contacted does not mean a fixed penalty notice will necessarily be issued to that person. Nevertheless if following an investigation, officers believe it is appropriate because the Covid regulations have been breached without a reasonable excuse, a fixed penalty notice will normally be issued."

Note all the work being done by that word "necessarily". It implies that those 50 plus people being sent the police questionnaire are very likely to be fined.

On ITV's Peston show, the treasury chief secretary Simon Clarke said the Prime Minister would keep us all informed of the actions of the police in relation to him. So one question is whether he will tell us as and when he receives a questionnaire.

Clarke repeated the PM's line that he doesn't think he broke the rules, and he would not say whether he should resign if he is fined.

Political Editor Robert Peston suggests Boris Johnson's decision to scrap all Covid rules could be related to the pressure on him over partygate

During Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, shadow minister Fabian Hamilton challenged Mr Johnson over the image and asked whether Mr Johnson would be passing it onto police.

Mr Johnson eventually confirmed the event in question "already has been submitted for investigation".

Official guidance at the time the picture is said to have been taken, said: "Although there are exemptions for work purposes, you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier."

London was under Tier 2 restrictions at the time, which prohibited social mixing between different households indoors.

Labour MP Mr Hamilton said: "In the last few minutes a photo has emerged of the Prime Minister in Downing Street on December 15, 2020 surrounded by alcohol, food and people wearing tinsel.

"It looks a lot like one of the Christmas parties he told us never happened."

He added: "Will the prime minister be referring this party to the police as it is not one of the ones currently being investigated?"

Mr Johnson responded: "In what he has just said, I'm afraid he is completely in error."

Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson's hostile former chief adviser, tweeted: "there's waaaaay better pics than that floating around, incl in the flat."

With police having received more than 300 photographs from Ms Gray's investigation, Mr Johnson gave his firmest commitment to date to "immediately publish in full whatever" he is given by Sue Gray after all inquiries are concluded.

Ms Gray's update into her inquiry revealed that police were investigating 12 events in Downing Street and wider government, but the "online Christmas quiz" was not considered to have "reached the threshold for criminal investigation".

The Met Police is investigating alleged parties on eight dates:

  • 20 May 2020 - the BYOB garden party the PM and his wife attended

  • 18 June 2020 - the Cabinet Office party to mark the departure of a private secretary

  • 19 June 2020 - Boris Johnson's birthday party

  • 13 November 2020 - the PM's "flat party" and a leaving party

  • 17 December 2020 - Cabinet Office "Christmas Party" and two leaving parties

  • 18 December 2020 - Downing Street Christmas party

  • 14 January 2021 - Downing Street gathering to mark the departure of two private secretaries

  • 16 April 2021 - Two No10 parties held on eve of Prince Philip's funeral

The prime minister is also still suffering the impacts of making a false Jimmy Savile accusation against Sir Keir during last week's debate on Sue Gray's partygate report.

Attempting to deflect partygate criticism, after Ms Gray found there was a "failure of leadership" in Number 10 during the pandemic, Mr Johnson said Sir Keir spent his time as head of the CPS "prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile".

The claim, which has been widely discredited, was repeated by a group of protesters who mobbed Sir Keir outside Parliament.

Number 10 has insisted Mr Johnson will not apologise for making the slur after distressing video footage showed Sir Keir being harassed by an angry mob accusing him of “protecting paedophiles".

At least eight Tory MPs have called on Mr Johnson to apologise for the slur and one of his most loyal advisers quit last week over his refusal to do so.

At PMQs Mr Johnson did not accept blame for the incident, claiming the Iranian government was culpable.

Responding to an MP who asked about the incident, he said: "I don't think she should either let the thugs and yobs who bullied and harassed the right honourable gentleman off the hook, because they are culpable, any more than she should let the Iranian Government off the hook, because they are culpable."

Mr Johnson carried out a mini Cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday - replacing former chief whip Mark Spencer, who became leader of the Commons after Jacob Rees-Mogg was moved to become a Brexit minister.

Nine people in total changed role but no one was sacked from government - the reappointments were criticised as being Brexit-focused and man-heavy.

The PM also has a revamped backroom team after five advisers quit within 24 hours last week, with a new communications director and chief of staff hoping to move the narrative away from the partygate scandal - a task that is clearly proving challenging.