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Boris Johnson news - live: Head of Covid rules taskforce held party in lockdown as No 10 apologises to Queen

·44-min read
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The former director general of the government’s Covid Taskforce has apologised over a gathering in the Cabinet Office for her leaving drinks during coronavirus restrictions days before Christmas in 2020.

Kate Josephs, who is chief executive of Sheffield City Council, said she was co-operating with a probe by senior civil servant Sue Gray.

In a tweet she said that the event on 17 December was to mark her departure from the Civil Service, and included staff “gathering ... with drinks, in our office”.

The revelation comes on the same day as Downing Street has been forced to apologise to Buckingham Palace following reports of two No 10 parties held on the eve of Prince Philip’s socially-distanced funeral – but officials will not say if Boris Johnson knew about them.

The PM’s spokesman is also refusing to clarify whether it was acknowledged to the Palace that the gatherings were “social events”, which would have been in breach of Covid rules at the time.

It is understood the apology was made by a government official, in a telephone call – rather than in a conversation involving Mr Johnson.

Key points

  • No 10 apologises to Buckingham Palace over ‘parties’ night before Prince Philip’s funeral...

  • ...despite Liz Truss telling nation to ‘move on’ from issue entirely

  • Ex-Covid taskforce boss apologises for hosting Cabinet Office leaving drinks

  • Keir Starmer says PM ‘should do the decent thing and resign’

  • Labour takes 11-point poll lead as PM ‘more unpopular than May’

  • Rayner: PM ‘insulting public’s intelligence’ amid latest allegations

Operation Save Big Dog: Boris Johnson draws up plan for officials to quit over partygate so he can keep job

18:03 , Joe Middleton

Boris Johnson is drawing up a list of officials to offer resignations over partygate in a bid to salvage his premiership, The Independent has learned.

Dubbed “Operation Save Big Dog” by the prime minister himself, the blueprint includes a drive to work out which heads should roll following the publication of senior official Sue Gray’s findings, as well as highlighting the prime minister’s achievements, according to sources.

Dan Rosenfield, Boris Johnson’s chief of staff, and Martin Reynolds, his private secretary and author of the ‘BYOB’ email, have both been noted as possible departures.

Anna Isaac has the details.

Operation Save Big Dog: Johnson’s plan for others to take fall over partygate

As we attempt to live with Covid, a category of vulnerable people is emerging: the new excluded

17:49 , Joe Middleton

The government is talking up ‘getting back to normal’. For several million people, the grim reality is very different, writes Jane Fae.

Opinion: A category of vulnerable people is emerging from Covid: the new excluded

Alex Salmond: push for Scottish independence while Boris Johnson is engulfed in scandal

17:34 , Joe Middleton

Alex Salmond said independence supporters should capitalise on the scandal engulfing Boris Johnson and push for another referendum.

The former first minister predicted that Mr Johnson would be ousted this year after the outrage of Downing Street hosting parties during lockdown.

The Alba Party leader argued independence campaigners would “not get a better opportunity” to achieve Scottish Independence.

Mr Salmond said: “ It’s in Boris Johnson’s nature to have scandals. The Tories know that so, at some point this year, they will get rid of him. But, the question we should be asking is, who comes next?

“It’s not the task of Alba and it shouldn’t be the task of any Scottish politicians to replace Boris Johnson with another Tory, particularly when that Tory will be more organised, more popular, more formidable and more ruthless than Boris Johnson.

He added: “We must ask ourselves, given the total disorganisation of people like Johnson, Michael Gove and the rest of them, why on earth have we not been pushing the independence question?

“We will not get a better opportunity than to have the weakness at the very top of London’s Government, and that weakness should be Scotland’s opportunity.”

His comments come as polling by YouGov showed the Prime Minister now has a net favourability rating of minus 77 in Scotland - the lowest of all four UK nations.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe ‘hopeful’ after British Council worker’s release from Iranian jail

17:14 , Joe Middleton

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is feeling more hopeful about her prospects of being released from prison after a British Council employee detained in Iran on spying charges was freed and returned back to the UK, her husband has said.

The British Council announced Aras Amiri, who was imprisoned for more than three years in Iran on fiercely-criticised spying charges, won her appeal to the country’s Supreme Court on Wednesday and has since arrived back in the UK, writes our women’s correspondent Maya Oppenheim.

The 34-year-old worked as an artistic affairs officer and was detained back in 2018 while visiting family in Tehran. British Council said it has always refuted the allegations against her after Ms Amiri’s 10-year sentence was overturned.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe ‘hopeful’ after British Council worker’s release from jail

16:59 , Joe Middleton

Covid: UK reports 99,652 infections and 270 deaths

16:47 , Joe Middleton

The rate of spread of Covid could be slowing, figures suggest, with a drop of nearly 10,000 new one-day infections.

Another 99,652 people have been found to be infected with Covid-19 in the UK in 24 hours, according to government statistics.

That was down compared with the 109,133 new infections recorded in the previous 24 hours but it brings the total number of infections to 15,066,395 – nearly one in four of the UK population.

Reporting by Jane Dalton.

Covid: UK reports 99,652 infections and 270 deaths

Head of Covid rules taskforce admits holding leaving drinks during lockdown

16:23 , Joe Middleton

The former head of a government unit responsible for drawing up Covid rules has apologised for organising a leaving drinks event during 2020’s Christmas lockdown.

Kate Joseph, ex-chief of the Cabinet Office Covid taskforce, admitted she had gathered colleagues together for her own leaving event on 17 December 2020.

It took place while strict curbs on socialising remained in force in London.

Adam Forrest reports.

Covid rules taskforce chief admits holding leaving drinks during lockdown

Campaigners say Covid fines must be rescinded amid No 10 ‘impunity’

16:08 , Sam Hancock

Coronavirus prosecutions must be stopped in light of allegations government figures broke the law “with impunity” while ordinary members of the public were punished, campaigners have said.

The Fair Trials group called for the almost 120,000 fines issued so far in England and Wales to be rescinded and for all charges under Covid laws to be withdrawn, reports our home affairs editor Lizzie Dearden.

“We cannot have a justice system where people in power can break lockdown with impunity while others are prosecuted and fined,” CEO Normal L Reimer said.

Meanwhile, figures obtained by The Independent show that 30 per cent of the Covid prosecutions so far reviewed by the Crown Prosecution Service - 803 out of 2,716 - were wrongful.

Covid prosecutions and fines ‘must be rescinded over Downing Street impunity’

Watch: No 10 apologises to Queen for parties on eve of Prince Philip's funeral

16:05 , Sam Hancock

Ex-Covid taskforce boss apologises for hosting leaving drinks

16:04 , Sam Hancock

Kate Josephs, formerly the head of Boris Johnson’s Covid taskforce, has issued a public apology after admitting to hosting a leaving drinks in the Cabinet Office in December 2020.

She said the event on 17 December was to mark her departure from the Civil Service, and included staff “gathering ... with drinks, in our office”.

“I am truly sorry that I did this and for the anger that people will feel as a result,” Ms Josephs, who is now the CEO of Sheffield City Council, said. “Sheffield has suffered greatly during this pandemic, and I apologise unreservedly.”

She added she was “cooperating” with the Sue Gray inquiry, but felt the need to speak out.

At the time of the event, London and the southeast of England were in strict Tier 3 measures. And just two days later, on 19 December, the PM imposed an effective lockdown in the capital and vast swathes of the country. Some days later, Christmas celebrations would go on to be cancelled for hundreds of families owing to the situation.

Ms Josephs finished her statement by saying she “will not be able to respond to any further questions until [Ms Gray’s] investigation is complete”.

‘Most corrupt government ever’: Public reacts to party allegations

15:50 , Sam Hancock

Hours after explosive reports emerged of two lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street last April, the general feeling at a branch of Co-op where a government staffer allegedly filled a suitcase with bottles of wine was one of disappointment.

The government was accused of being “the most corrupt we’ve ever had” as customers and passers-by reacted to the allegations outside the supermarket on The Strand, near Whitehall, reports Chiara Giordano, who spoke to members of the public in central London today.

A pair of former civil servants said they were “disgusted” by the latest allegations of leaving parties being held at No 10 last April. One man, asked whether he thought the PM should resign over the string of government rule-breaking allegations in recent weeks, said: “Yes, he probably should – but as a Labour supporter, I’m quite happy for him to be here and to mess things up.”

Government accused of being ‘most corrupt’ as public reacts to latest party claims

Government needs overhaul after Gray’s partygate report – Gove

15:43 , Sam Hancock

Michael Gove says changes will need to be made in government once Sue Gray’s partygate report is published – but denied there is a need for Boris Johnson to resign as part of that “shake up”.

The levelling up secretary, speaking to ITV news during a visit to Manchester, said he could “completely understand the sense of exasperation and anger that people feel” after more reports of unlawful parties inside No 1 during the pandemic.

But, he quickly added, decisions could not be made until the report by senior civil servant Sue Gray had been finalised. “Rather than a sort of drip, drip, drip of revelations, we need to have a complete, full, candid account of everything that went on ... let’s do that, let’s do it quickly, but let’s also do it with all the facts in front of us,” he said.

Asked if he felt embarrassed about the most recent parties being reported on, which took place last April, Mr Gove said firmly “it’s not about embarrassment” and that he thinks “everybody is just understandable exasperated”.

Loyal to his boss, though, he said giving the British public “the truth” was more important than sacking Mr Johnson leaving his job.

Timeline of alleged government ‘lockdown parties’

15:33 , Sam Hancock

You would be forgiven for losing track of the number of No 10 parties alleged to have taken place over last two years, and when, where and how each is said to have broken various Covid restrictions.

After a leaked email showed over 100 No 10 staff were invited to “bring your own booze” event in the Downing Street garden on 20 May 2020, including the PM and his wife, Carrie, MPs within his own party have also called on Boris Johnson to resign.

Those calls intensified last night when the latest reported-on events were found to have taken place hours before Prince Philip’s socially-distanced funeral.

Here, our political correspondent Ashley Cowburn looks at all the allegations of gatherings across No 10, government and at the Conservative Party headquarters.

Timeline of alleged gatherings across government during Covid restrictions

Watch: Bizarre Boris Johnson lookalike ‘protest’ outside Downing St

15:11 , Sam Hancock

PM likely very worried about ‘volatile’ position, says Cameron’s ex-spin chief

15:10 , Sam Hancock

Back to partygate now. Ex-PM David Cameron’s former spin doctor says he imagines Boris Johnson is feeling “deeply worried” about his position following the latest backlash.

Sir Craig Oliver told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme the situation was both “incredibly volatile” and “incredibly difficult” but that the cabinet and MPs were likely wondering if it was worth booting the current leader out amid the party’s current issues.

They are “are probably weighing up ‘are we better with him or better without him’?” he told the radio show. “At the moment there are a few unknowns and I think most of them are prepared to see what happens with Sue Gray.”

“I think that there’s quite a sophisticated calculation that’s going on at the moment,” he added.

Pushed on what that calculation could look like, Sir Craig said officials would be considering whether a new PM would be able to handle the country’s biggest crises right now, including “the cost of living crisis or any number of other big problems that are on the horizon”.

What they have to ask, he said, is if “replacing somebody at this time and putting them in that difficult circumstance [is] actually going to be the best thing for them long term?”

Football pundit Gary Neville joins Labour Party

15:00 , Sam Hancock

England football star Gary Neville joined the Labour Party “in the last few days”, and is reportedly not ruling out a venture into politics.

The former Manchester United captain was publicly welcomed to the party by shadow cabinet ministers Lucy Powell and Anneliese Dodds.

Explaining the move on BBC’s Political Thinking podcast, Mr Neville said: “I want to support Labour. I do believe that we need a progressive Labour Party, but one that actually not just looks after the left side; it has to come towards the centre.”

Sharing the news on social media, Ms Powell, who is shadow secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, said she is “very pleased” that Mr Neville has “finally” joined Labour. She also hinted that the player-turned-pundit may have a political career in store.

It comes amid reports Mr Neville is not “ruling out” a run for Manchester mayor when the current incumbent, Andy Burnham, finishes up. However, asked about the rumours by the BBC’s Nick Robinson, Mr Neville said he thinks he would get “eaten alive” in Westminster.

Commenting on the latest No 10 party allegations today, the football pundit said:

UK and EU to ‘intensify’ talks over Northern Ireland Protocol

14:33 , Sam Hancock

Stepping away from No 10 parties for a moment, foreign secretary Liz Truss insisted today there is a “deal to be done” with the EU over the post-Brexit agreement on Northern Ireland, as both London and Brussels agreed to intensify talks.

The apparent thaw in relations comes after Ms Truss’ first official face-to-face talks with Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice president, over the Northern Ireland Protocol at her official residence at Chevening, in Kent.

The pair have agreed to hold further talks on 24 January, with officials also due to meet again next week for “intensified talks”. But Ms Truss again refused to rule out the prospect of invoking Article 16, which would suspend part of the agreements in the protocol, if they could not agree a way forward.

Our political correspondent Ashley Cowburn has more:

Liz Truss and Maros Sefcovic to ‘intensify’ talks over Northern Ireland Protocol

‘Should’ve gone to Sainsbury’s’: Woman points out No 10 party-goers walked further for booze than necessary

14:30 , Sam Hancock

More from our reporter Chiara Giordano now, who’s out in central London.

One Co-op customer said she couldn’t blame the prime minister for the parties held at Downing Street during the pandemic because she also broke the rules to look after her elderly mother.

However, she did say she was surprised to hear claims a staffer visited the supermarket on The Strand to fill a suitcase full of wine for a No 10 gathering last April because the central London thoroughfare isn’t the cheapest place to buy booze.

“They probably should’ve gone to Sainsbury’s, which I think is closer, instead,” she said.

Watch: Truss tells British public to ‘move on’ from partygate

14:27 , Sam Hancock

Those who make rules should follow them, says Welsh FM amid partygate

14:25 , Sam Hancock

Over to Wales, where Mark Drakeford has said he would take a “very dim view” if he discovered parties had been held in Welsh government buildings during the pandemic.

Following his weekly coronavirus update today, the Welsh FM was asked by journalists about parties which took place at Downing Street during lockdown.

“Time after time, I’ve come here to say that I believe that people who make the rules have a special obligation to make sure that they themselves are following the rules,” he said. “That’s how we’ve tried to conduct ourselves in the Welsh government.”

Asked about the inquiry into the gatherings at No 10 being conducted by civil servant Sue Gray, he added: “I know Sue Gray ... My own view has been, from the very beginning, that the report should have been given to someone entirely independent of the UK government. It should’ve been judge-led, or someone in that independent position.

“I think Sue Gray has been put in a very challenging and pressurised position, and it would’ve been better if some other mechanism, more clear-cut, would’ve been put in place.”

Welsh FM Mark Drakeford (PA)
Welsh FM Mark Drakeford (PA)

‘This is a work event’: Around ‘100’ protest outside Downing Street

14:13 , Sam Hancock

Criticism of Boris Johnson doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon.

At an already perilous time for the PM, dozens of protestors have gathered outside his office and home on Downing Street, wearing masks of Mr Johnson’s face, holding what appear to be bottles of alcohol, playing music and chanting “this is a work event”.

The crowd, which looks to be comprised of mostly young attendees, also chanted “my name is Boris”.

It comes after more revelations about lockdown parties that are said to have taken place inside No 10, this time the night before Prince Philip’s funeral – when England was under strict step 2 Covid restrictions.

A video of the demonstration, shared by Channel 4 News’ Liz Bates, quickly did the rounds on social media.

When critics began wondering if the crowd were “taking the p out of” Boris or pro-the PM, one of those claiming to be at the event replied saying the intention was indeed to “take the p” out of him.

Member of public thinks government ‘most corrupt we’ve ever had’

13:48 , Sam Hancock

More from our reporter Chiara Giordano now, who’s out in central London.

Nurse Tracy Thompson said the current government “is the most corrupt we’ve ever had” amid the Downing Street party allegations.

“If he [Johnson] said it was raining you would go outside and check,” she told The Independent outside the Co-op on The Strand.

“I’m a nurse and I visited people in care homes who were isolated in their own rooms. It’s just beyond anything.”

She added: “On 20 May 2020 [the same day a lockdown-breaking garden party was held at Downing Street] it was my daughter’s 30th birthday and she couldn’t stay at our house.”

Her husband, Tony Thompson, said there was “no moral leadership at all”.“It’s not surprising is it,” he said. “It’s Downing Street and it all goes back to Johnson because the fish rots from the head

down and he creates that culture around him.“He has got to go and the whole of cabinet with him because they are all like him.”

Labour MP: How can Boris Johnson look Queen in the eye?

13:43 , Laurie Churchman

Shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry asks how the Prime Minister can look the Queen in the eye following the claims of Downing Street parties on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral.

While the Queen behaved in “such a proper way” amid the pandemic, sitting alone at her husband’s funeral, Ms Thornberry claims there were “DJs in the basement” and “grown men playing on swings” at the Downing Street party.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

She told Sky News: “We’re waiting for the prime minister to look into his heart and soul and decide whether or not he has a scrap of human decency... because if he does he will resign.

“How the hell can he possibly expect to go before Her Majesty again and be able to look her in the eye and pretend that everything is alright?

“The one thing he should be able to say is ‘I am profoundly sorry and I resign’.”

Government ‘out of touch’, customers at Co-op near Whitehall say

13:19 , Laurie Churchman

Reporter Chiara Giordano has been talking to customers at the Co-op branch in central London where government staff allegedly bought booze for their 16 April party.

One man passing the shop on The Strand said government staff were “out of touch” with the public.

“If it’s true they did have the party it’s unacceptable and they shouldn’t have done that because everyone else was isolating at home,” he told The Independent.

“Boris Johnson should resign. I think they are out of touch with the public, they feel they are far superior to the public.”

The woman accompanying him said she was “disappointed”, adding: “It’s not what you expect from your leadership.”

Rishi Sunak’s partygate silence blamed on bad signal

13:13 , Laurie Churchman

Rishi Sunak’s failure to offer timely support to scandal-hit Boris Johnson this week was nothing to do with political machinations, a cabinet secretary has assured voters.

It was down to a lack of mobile and Wi-Fi coverage.

Nadine Dorries said the reason the chancellor didn’t back the PM for almost 24 hours after new party-gate revelations was simply because he didn’t have signal while visiting Ilfracombe in Devon.

“We know it doesn’t have great signal down there,” she said.

Colin Drury has the full story below.

Dorries blames Sunak’s ‘partygate’ silence on Devon WiFi despite signal in the area

Angela Rayner calls for PM’s resignation, saying: 'He can’t keep hiding’

12:54 , Laurie Churchman

Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, has also called for the PM to step down.

She said: “Boris Johnson is yet again insulting the intelligence of the British people rather than just doing the decent thing and coming clean.

“So many people lost loved ones in unimaginably lonely circumstances, the denials and excuses from Downing Street are causing them further hurt.

“We have a prime minister up to his neck in scandals of his own making. He can no longer do his job but is so desperate to save his own skin he is looking for anyone else to blame. He can’t keep hiding.”

Keir Starmer: ‘Boris Johnson should do the decent thing and resign’

12:49 , Laurie Churchman

Keir Starmer, responding to Downing Street’s apology to Buckingham Palace, said: “This shows just how seriously Boris Johnson has degraded the office of prime minister.

The Labour leader added: “The Conservatives have let Britain down. An apology isn’t the only thing the prime minister should be offering the palace today. Boris Johnson should do the decent thing and resign.”

Call for Johnson to apologise personally to Queen

12:44 , Laurie Churchman

The No 10 apology is understood to have been made by an official, rather than Boris Johnson himself.

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey said: “Boris Johnson should apologise personally to the Queen for the offence he’s caused her, and millions around the country mourning for loved ones.

“He should also use that opportunity to officially hand in his resignation.”

Time for PM to resign, customers at Co-op near Whitehall say

12:44 , Sam Hancock

More from our reporter Chiara Giordano now, who is out and about on The Strand, in central London, talking to customers at the branch of Co-op where it is alleged government staff bought booze for their 16 April party.

A customer, who said he knew Boris Johnson, told The Independent he believed it was time for the prime minister to resign.

The man, who did not want to be named, said reaction upon learning of the latest allegations was “disappointment at the character of leaders we have nowadays”.

“I have the feeling standards of behaviour amongst senior individuals across a number of areas of life seem to have fallen,” he said.

“There seems to be a belief that they can get away with an awful lot of things and they have to give the apologies when they get caught out. Many times they do avoid the consequences.

“I think the reality is the people who have control directly of his job don’t really care about the behaviour, they care whether they get re-elected or not. I think the belief that he is an asset is changing – but I think the uncertainty in their mind is not a moral one of right and wrong, it’s whether he is an asset to get re-elected.”

BREAKING: No 10 apologises to Buckingham Palace

12:18 , Sam Hancock

No 10 has apologised to Buckingham Palace after it was revealed parties were held on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral, but is refusing to say if Boris Johnson knew about them.

It is understood the apology was made by a Downing Street official, in a telephone call – rather than in in a conversation involving the prime minister, our deputy political editor Rob Merrick reports.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman refused to say if the apology to the Palace acknowledged that the gatherings were “social events” – which would have been in breach of Covid rules at the time.

No 10 apologises to Buckingham Palace for ‘parties’ on eve of Prince Philip’s funeral

Sue Gray’s inquiry to cover parties on eve of Prince Philip’s funeral – report

12:16 , Sam Hancock

The fresh allegations of rule-breaking in Downing Street, at least some of which took place on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral, will be covered by the Sue Gray inquiry, it has been reported.

It is understood the senior official will consider the reports as part of her investigation into various gatherings across Whitehall – all allegedly held while England had some kind of Covid restrictions in place, reports the PA news agency.

It comes after security minister Damian Hinds said this morning he thought the new revelations would form part of Ms Gray’s probe.

Critics have suggested Ms Gray’s inquiry can’t be considered “independent”, as it has been billed, because she reports to the levelling up secretary Michael Gove – who in turn reports to Boris Johnson.

However, the government maintains Ms Gray is a civil servant and therefore is not a direct employee of the PM’s.

People should ‘move on’ from partygate, says Liz Truss

12:08 , Sam Hancock

Following my earlier post (11am), here’s Adam Forrest with more detail on Liz Truss’ remarks on partygate.

Despite mounting pressure on Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary suggested the PM’s apology for attending a “bring your own booze” event in the No 10 garden in May 2020 was good enough to draw a line under the matter for now.

Asked about questions over the PM’s “moral authority”, the senior minister told reporters: “The prime minister apologised on Wednesday. He was very clear that mistakes have been made ... I think we now need to move on.”

Ms Truss, one of the favourites to succeed Mr Johnson, added she “100 per cent support him to continue getting on with the job”.

People should ‘move on’ from partygate, says Liz Truss

Former civil servants ‘disgusted’ by latest No 10 party claims

11:59 , Sam Hancock

On that note, our reporter Chiara Giordano is out in central London today, gauging people’s opinions of the PM in the wake of reports there were parties held at Downing Street the night before Prince Philip’s funeral.

She reports:

The general feeling outside the Co-op on The Strand this morning has been one of disappointment.

Two former civil servants said they were “disgusted” by the latest No 10 party allegations, including that a staffer was sent to the supermarket with a suitcase to fill with bottles of wine.

One, who wished to only be named as Richard, told The Independent: “I’m pretty disgusted really because so many people were keeping to the rules and the people who actually were making the rules decided they could break them.”

Asked whether he thought the prime minister should resign over the string of lockdown-breaking allegations in recent weeks, he added: “Yes, he probably should – but as a Labour supporter I’m quite happy for him to be here and to mess things up.”

His wife Hilary said the allegations seemed to be affecting attitudes towards all politicians, which she believed was unfair.She added: “We are both former civil servants – we would not behave like that. That somebody would offer a meeting with alcohol…it’s completely different rules to when we were civil servants.”

Labour takes 11-point poll lead as PM ‘more unpopular than May’

11:54 , Sam Hancock

Amid ongoing allegations into potentially illegal lockdown parties, held by government staff, Labour is making gains in the latest political polls.

A YouGov survey, published this morning and conducted between 12 and 13 January, has Sir Keir Starmer’s party 11 percentage points above Boris Johnson’s.

A separate survey by the polling giant shows the PM is now more unpopular among the British public than Theresa May was at any point during her time in office.

Ms May reached a low of -49 points on 14 to 15 May in 2019, but Mr Johnson now stands at -52 with nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) of the British public now having an unfavourable opinion of him.

Met Police still refusing to probe No 10 parties on eve of royal funeral

11:38 , Sam Hancock

The Metropolitan Police says it will not change its position on investigating Downing Street parties after allegations over two new gatherings.

A spokesperson for the force told The Independent that two reported leaving events for Boris Johnson’s then-director of communications and a personal photographer on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral would not be investigated before a Cabinet Office inquiry ends, writes our home affairs editor Lizzie Dearden.

They pointed to a statement released on Thursday, which police “do not normally investigate breaches of coronavirus regulations when they are reported long after they are said to have taken place”.

Met Police maintains refusal to investigate Downing Street parties amid new claims

Rayner: PM ‘insulting public’s intelligence’ amid latest party allegations

11:06 , Sam Hancock

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner has called on Boris Johnson to publicly address the latest party allegations, insisting the PM is “yet again insulting the intelligence of the British people rather than just doing the decent thing and coming clean”.

“So many people lost loved ones in unimaginably lonely circumstances, the denials and excuses from Downing Street are causing them further hurt,” she said in a statement issued by the Labour Party’s press office.

Ms Rayner added:

“We have a prime minister up to his neck in scandals of his own making. He can no longer do his job but is so desperate to save his own skin he is looking for anyone else to blame. He can’t keep hiding.

“The Prime Minister needs to make a public statement on this latest revelation today, quickly followed by his resignation.”

Rayner is the MP for Ashton under Lyne (PA)
Rayner is the MP for Ashton under Lyne (PA)

Truss tells people to ‘move on’ from No 10 parties scandal

11:00 , Sam Hancock

Foreign secretary Liz Truss says people should “move on” from the so-called partygate scandal in the government, after Boris Johnson apologised for attending a “bring your own booze” event in the Downing Street garden last year.

Asked about the latest reports of parties taking place the night before Prince Philip’s funeral, and the PM’s “moral authority”, Ms Truss told reporters: “The prime minister apologised on Wednesday. He was very clear that mistakes have been made.

“I do think we need to look at the overall position we’re in as a country: the fact that he has delivered Brexit, that we are recovering from Covid - we’ve got one of the fastest-growing economies now in the G7 and we’re delivering the booster programme.

“He has apologised, I think we now need to move on and talk about how we are going to sort out issues ... And we now need to get on with that and, of course, wait for the results of the Sue Gray inquiry.”

Pushed on the matter, she added: “I completely understand people’s anger and dismay about what has happened. The prime minister apologised to the House on Wednesday, I 100 per cent support him to continue getting on with the job.”

MSP denies Tories split in two after Ross told PM to quit

10:50 , Sam Hancock

Over to Scotland, where a Tory MSP has denied the Conservatives are now “two parties”, following Douglas Ross’ call for the PM to resign.

Craig Hoy also reacted to the latest allegations of Downing Street parties, saying that it was “very hard to understand” how anyone thought the behaviour was acceptable.

Mr Ross, leader of the Scottish Tories, called for Boris Johnson to quit on Wednesday, which led to Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg calling him “quite a lightweight figure”.

Speaking on BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme, it was put to My Hoy that the Conservatives sounded like “two different parties”. But, he responded: “We’re not two parties at all. There’s absolute unanimity that we believe in Scotland remaining in the UK.

“We want to take the fight to the SNP, we want to hold Nicola Sturgeon to account for her failures in office.”

Asked about Mr Rees-Mogg’s view of the Scottish Tory leader, Mr Hoy said: “Jacob Rees-Mogg is entitled to his view and it is no surprise to you that I disagree with him, [but] I think if you look across the cabinet, there was no support for what Jacob Rees-Mogg said.

In fact, he added, “many MPs and also members of the cabinet, including [Scottish secretary] Alister Jack, disagreed with him”.

Hoy has been MSP for the South Scotland region since May 202 (PA)
Hoy has been MSP for the South Scotland region since May 202 (PA)

Ministers warned not to leak details of partygate inquiry to media

10:18 , Sam Hancock

Back to the reports of No 10 parties. Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has warned the government it would be “entirely inappropriate” for any details of the inquiry into alleged Whitehall and Downing Street parties to be leaked.

He said this morning it would “be discourteous to the House for any findings of the inquiry to be released to the media before being announced to” MPs in the chamber first.

“I cannot be clearer on this matter and expect the government to announce the findings of the inquiry to this House first, and I will treat any failure to do so as a gross discourtesy to this House,” Sir Lindsay told those in the Commons.

Sir Lindsay was responding to a point of order from Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain after she raised concerns over reports in The Telegraph of the two parties said to have taken place in No 10 last year. James Slack, the PM’s former communications director, has already apologised for one of the events held in his honour. The government is yet to confirm, or or deny, the other party took place.

Ms Chamberlain also referred to a Times report which detailed the likely conclusion of the inquiry, and questioned what guidance Sir Lindsay could offer to government ministers and officials to ensure “they do not leak the outcomes” of the investigation.

Barry Gardiner: The Labour MP under spotlight for links to Lee

10:01 , Sam Hancock

Following my last post, here’s a bit more on the Christine Lee story. One particular aspect, which is capturing the nation’s attention, is the suspected Chinese spy’s link to Labour MP Barry Gardiner.

Former shadow cabinet minister Mr Gardiner, who received more than £500,000 over six years from Ms Lee, has said he was “deeply distressed” to learn one of his biggest donors had been illegally trying to influence British politicians. He also insists Ms Lee “gained no political advantage for the Chinese state from me”, but admitted to discussing Labour policy with her.

The link between Mr Gardiner and Ms Lee – a Chinese lawyer, whose central London firm acts as a legal adviser to the capital’s Chinese embassy – was first reported on in 2017. But it was thrust into the spotlight on Thursday when Ms Lee was accused by security agency MI5 of covert “political interference”.

So, how damaging is the pair’s friendship for the Brent North MP? We take a look.

Barry Gardiner: The Labour MP under spotlight for links to ‘Chinese agent’

Security minister announces review into ‘Chinese agent’ Westminster activity

09:54 , Sam Hancock

Let’s step away from partygate for a moment. A government security minister has said there will be a review into how suspected Chinese spy Christine Lee got “so close” to senior British politicians.

Damian Hinds was asked how Ms Lee gained access to former PMs Theresa May and David Cameron, to which he told LBC: “You have operators who specialise in trying to, you know, find ways of getting into influential positions and work in all manner of different ways.”

He said the security services had been “aware of this individual for some time”.

Asked if there would now be a review of how she operated for so long, he said: “Yes, I mean, we’re learning all the time, all the implications, of course, have to be able to be taken into account.”

It comes after MI5 issued a warning to MPs yesterday about Ms Lee, a Chinese lawyer accused of working for her country’s government to seek covert influence over British lawmakers and lobby UK parliamentary figures over Chinese investment interests in nuclear power and battery technology.

China has since denied any involvement in interfering with British politics.

Issues with PM’s leadership ‘goes back to Barnard Castle’ – Tory MP

09:47 , Sam Hancock

More from senior Tory MP Sir Roger Gale now, who said this morning the PM’s judgment is “flawed” and that he has been calling for him to step down since the Barnard Castle debacle involving former No 10 aide Dominic Cummings.

When asked how damaging more recent revelations of rule-breaking will be for the Tories, Sir Roger told Sky News: “I don’t think the image of the Downing Street brunch with the majestic wine-ware is doing us any good at all, that clearly has to end.”

Pushed on the future of the PM’s position, he said: “I have been described as a serial critic of the prime minister and, in a sense, that is true. My letter calling for a leadership election goes back to the Barnard Castle event when the prime minister failed to take what I regarded as appropriate decisions and actions to remove Mr Cummings from office, because what happened then was quite wrong.

“I decided then that if the prime minister was not capable of exercising the right kind of judgment, then we had to have another prime minister.”

Finishing off his interview, Sir Roger praised Boris Johnson’s delivery of the vaccine rollout and for “getting Brexit Done”, but added: “The problem is that the man’s judgment is flawed.”

Watch: Everything you need to know about Downing Street party inquiry

09:41 , Sam Hancock

‘He’s gotta be toast now’: Critics comment on Telegraph ‘turning’ on PM

09:40 , Sam Hancock

Many have been left wondering which media outlets still support Boris Johnson after his former employer The Telegraph became the first to publish reports about two parties, which allegedly took place in No 10 the night before Prince Philip’s funeral.

As Novara Media’s Ash Sarkar reports:

Meanwhile, Bryan Rossi-Anderson, a digital project manager in Sussex, claimed the paper had “knives out for their boy”:

A mum of two boys, who goes by the name of C D Scott on Twitter, added:

Will Boris Johnson resign?

09:01 , Sam Hancock

The PM is facing one of the most politically perilous moments of his premiership, as he continues to come under intense scrutiny over his own involvement in a No 10 drinks party held in the midst of England’s first national lockdown.

At PMQs this week, Boris Johnson finally addressed the issue, confirming that he had attended the garden gathering for around 25 minutes with the intention of thanking his staff for their efforts during the pandemic while claiming, somewhat improbably: “I believed implicitly that it was a work event.”

The insistences he should go have only been made worse by the fallout from two parties, rumoured to have taken place in No 10 the night before Prince Philip’s funeral last April.

But will Boris Johnson go? Joe Sommerlad and our political correspondent Ashley Cowburn take a closer look.

Will Boris Johnson resign?

Latest Tory urging PM to quit no stranger to submitting letters of no confidence

08:54 , Sam Hancock

The latest Tory MP to publicly insist Boris Johnson should resign is someone who has submitted letters of no confidence in the party’s last three leaders.

As the Daily Mail’s John Stevens reports:

Andrew Bridgen, who supported the PM in taking over Britain’s leadership in 2019, said Mr Johnson should stand aside within three months. He is the fifth Conservative MP to publicly call for the PM to quit this week after Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, Sir Roger Gale, William Wragg and Caroline Nokes.

Writing for The Telegraph, Mr Bridgen warned of “a moral vacuum at the heart of our government” in the wake of the “partygate” revelations.

“Sadly, the prime minister’s position has become untenable,” he said. “Leadership is not just about the job title, or even making big decisions – it is equally about having a moral compass, of knowing not just right from left but right from wrong.”

Mr Bridgen and Sir Roger Gale are, so far, the only Conservatives who have admitted to submitting letters to chairman of the 1922 committee Sir Graham Brady.

Local Tory association withdraws support for PM

08:43 , Sam Hancock

Councillor Simon Ward, of the Sutton Coldfield Conservatives association, an association in a safe Tory seat which last night voted unanimously to withdraw its support from Boris Johnson over No 10 lockdown party allegations, said “the culture starts at the top”.

He also said the group’s decision to stop backing the PM reflected “local views at the very grassroots levels”.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme earlier, Mr Ward said: “The conversation we had last night ... was really about what I think we have the right to expect from our leaders and the standards of leadership we expect from them, and the trust that we put in them.

“This is about what the right thing is for politics, what the right thing is for our leaders, how this reflects on our country as well, and it’s just massively disappointing and it reflects very, very poorly on us as a nation as well.”

Turning to Mr Johnson’s leadership, the councillor said the PM was enacting a “culture [that] starts at the top ... and that’s the really disappointing point”.

“We were asking people all over our country to make massive sacrifices over the last two years,” he said. “I think we have the right to expect everybody in Government and in those positions of leadership to follow those same rules and guidelines as well.”

Watch: Security minister says ‘action can be taken’ if No 10 parties held last April

08:35 , Sam Hancock

PM ‘not responsible’ for parties – but sign of bad leadership, says Tory MP

08:31 , Sam Hancock

A senior Tory MP has described parties held in Downing Street during periods when Covid restrictions were in place as “wholly unacceptable”.

And while Sir Roger Gale said he does not hold Boris Johnson “personally responsible” for some of the events, because he wasn’t at all of them, he also said the rule-breaking represented “a culture” of bending the rules in the government.

“I think the events that took place on that evening [in April 202] were wholly unacceptable and completely insensitive, and should never have happened,” he told Sky News this morning.

“That said, I don’t hold the prime minister personally responsible, because he was not there, but it does reveal, I think, a culture within Downing Street that obviously stems from the top and should not be permitted.”

He added: “It is just another event in a chapter of incidents which should not have happened.”

Pushed on what this means for the PM, Sir Roger said he “clearly doesn’t and shouldn’t” know how many of his colleagues have submitted letters to the 1922 backbench committee, to trigger a Tory leadership challenge, but that he believes “there is some momentum which is growing”.

Minister ‘shocked’ to hear about No 10 party held last April

08:24 , Sam Hancock

Let’s hear some more from Damian Hinds now, who said this morning he was “shocked” to read about the party held to mark the PM’s former director of communications James Slack leaving Downing Street in April 2021, but that he is “not in a position to comment” because he was not there.

When asked about Mr Slack’s apology for the event on BBC Breakfast, the security minister added: “This was a particularly solemn time for our whole nation, as Her Majesty the Queen was mourning Prince Philip, and I was shocked by these allegations.

“I personally don’t know more about them. This is the first time I have heard that [Mr Slack’s apology].”

Pushed on what the public should think about the latest reports, Mr Hinds repeated that he was “not in a position to talk about what did or didn’t happen, not because I’m holding it back from you, but because I don’t know, I wasn’t there”.

“I think it’s important that we have an investigation ongoing into events, plural, and alleged events,” he said, echoing the sentiments of the PM this week.

‘Action can be taken’ against those who broke Covid rules, says minister

08:15 , Sam Hancock

Security minister Damian Hinds refused to be drawn this morning on whether Boris Johnson should be held responsible for the reported parties held at No 10 the night before Prince Philip was laid to rest.

However, he did say that if the reports are true, “action can be taken” against those who broke the rules.

It remains to be seen if the PM will be blamed for the parties taking place in his own house, despite claims he was not present at either of them.

BREAKING: PM’s ex-spokesperson apologises for No 10 party

08:00 , Sam Hancock

Boris Johnson’s former director of communications James Slack has said he wants to “apologise unreservedly for the anger and hurt caused” by a party held to mark his leaving Downing Street in April 2021.

It comes after reports that two events were held on the evening of Friday 16 April last year – when England was under step 2 Covid restrictions, which banned indoor mixing and restricted numbers of funerals and weddings, and happened to fall on the evening before Prince Philip’s funeral.

In a statement released on Friday morning by The Sun’s publisher, News UK, Mr Slack said: “I wish to apologise unreservedly for the anger and hurt caused. This event should not have happened at the time that it did. I am deeply sorry, and take full responsibility.”

Our political correspondent Ashley Cowburn reports:

PM’s former spokesperson ‘apologises unreservedly’ for No 10 party

Lib Dems and Labour renew calls for Johnson’s resignation

07:56 , Sam Hancock

Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, says the PM “must go” following the news about parties on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral.

Meanwhile, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said she had “no words for the culture and behaviours at No 1, and the buck stops with the PM”.

Both also took the time to remind people of the images of the Queen “sat alone in mourning” at her husband’s funeral, in order to adhere with social distancing rules. “The Queen sitting alone, mourning the loss of her husband, was the defining image of lockdown. Not because she is the Queen, but because she was just another person, mourning alone like too many others,” Sir Ed wrote.

PM’s staff ‘held two parties at No 10’ night before Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral

07:47 , Sam Hancock

Downing Street staff attended two separate parties on the evening before Prince Philip’s funeral amid strict Covid rules that saw the Queen sit alone as she bade farewell to her husband of 73 years, it has been alleged.

The Daily Telegraph reported that two events were held on the evening of Friday 16 April 2021 – when the country was under step 2 coronavirus restrictions which banned indoor mixing. Both events were said to be leaving parties for staff working in the prime minister’s inner team. One was reportedly held for James Slack, Boris Johnson’s then-director of communications, and the other for the prime minister’s personal photographer.

Witnesses told The Telegraph that “excessive alcohol” was drunk, attendees danced to music DJ’d by a special adviser, and the gatherings lasted beyond midnight. The paper also reported that the celebrations were initially held separately before merging later in the evening. Around 30 people were allegedly present across both parties.

Tom Batchelor has the full report:

PM’s staff ‘held two parties’ night before Queen sat alone at Prince Philip’s funeral

Good morning

07:45 , Sam Hancock

Hello, and welcome to The Independent’s rolling politics coverage.

Stay tuned as we bring you the latest fallout for Boris Johnson amid fresh allegations of Covid-breaching No 10 parties, this time said to be held on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral last year.

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