Senior Tory MP warns public will ignore new COVID rules after Xmas party scandal

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Shoppers, some wearing face coverings, cross Oxford Street in central London on December 4, 2021, as compulsory mask wearing in shops has been reintroduced in England as fears rise over the Omicron variant of Covid-19. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)
An expert warned people had lost trust after allegations Downing Street staff broke lockdown rules. (Getty)

A senior Conservative MP has warned the public are less likely to follow new COVID rules following the No 10 Christmas party scandal.

On Wednesday evening, Boris Johnson announced the country would be moving to its Plan B of restrictions.

Work-from-home guidance will return, vaccine passports will become mandatory in large venues and mask rules will be extended to combat the Omicron variant, the Prime Minister said.

However, there are concerns that footage showing No 10 staff joking about an alleged Christmas party on 18 December while London was under strict, Tier 3 lockdown rules meant the public are less likely to follow the new rules announced by Johnson.

Conservative former chief whip Mark Harper told MPs that the Government’s credibility had “taken a hit”.

“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 [Owen] 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?”

A second Tory MP, Philip Davies, added: "Can he give me any reason at all why I shouldn’t tell my constituents to treat these rules in exactly the same way that Number 10 Downing Street treated last year’s rules?”

The PM has ordered an investigation into the claims and told MPs he was “furious” about footage apparently showing aides, including his former spokeswoman Allegra Stratton, joking about it.

At Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday, he apologised “unreservedly” for the offence caused by the video but insisted he had been repeatedly assured “there was no party and that no COVID rules were broken”.

Some experts have also warned that public fatigue with the restrictions will be exacerbated by the Christmas party scandal.

Watch: Daughter of woman who died alone a year ago voices fury at No 10 party video

Professor Kit Yates, mathematical biologist at the University of Bath and a member of the unofficial Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said "trust is gone" after the allegations emerged.

Read more: Tearful response of bereaved woman who lost mum to COVID over No 10 'Xmas party'

Speaking on Wednesday before the move to Plan B had been confirmed ,Prof Yates’ said: “We face the very real prospect that the government will need to reimpose restrictions over the near future in order to curb the spread of Omicron.

“I worry, in the light of the Downing Street party story, that there is no motivation for the public to comply. Trust is gone."

Labour MP Barbara Keeley asked Health Secretary Sajid Javid how he is going to restore public trust after “the news of this Downing Street party”.

She said: “Does the Secretary of State agree with me that the people in this country have the right to expect the Government also follows the rules?

“The measures he has just announced rely on compliance, on people having trust and confidence in the Government. That trust has been shattered by the news of this Downing Street party. How is he going to restore it?”

Javid replied: "Sajid Javid said: “Of course, everyone should follow the rules. No-one is above the rules.”

In an extraordinary move, another Tory MP accused the government of implementing new rules to distract from the scandal.

At PMQs, senior Tory William Wragg challenged Johnson about reports a Cabinet meeting and press conference were planned “to initiate COVID winter Plan B”.

The chairman of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee told the prime minister: “Very few will be convinced by this diversionary tactic.”

Johnson told him: “No decisions will be taken without consulting the Cabinet.”

Last month, England's chief medical officer (CMO) Professor Chris Whitty said he was worried the public would not accept new lockdown rules.

He said: “My greatest worry at the moment is that people... if we need to do something more muscular at some point, whether it's for the current new variant or at some later stage, can we still take people with us?”

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - NOVEMBER 02: British COP26 spokesperson Allegra Stratton speaks during day three of COP26 at SECC on November 2, 2021 in Glasgow, United Kingdom. 2021 sees the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference. The conference will run from 31 October for two weeks, finishing on 12 November. It was meant to take place in 2020 but was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo by Adrian Dennis - Pool/Getty Images)
Footage emerged showing former No10 spokeswoman Allegra Stratton joking about a party. (Getty)

Read more: Dominic Cummings claims another party was held in PM's flat during lockdown

An Opinium Research poll previously found the public was less likely to follow rules after Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings caused public outrage when he drove from London to County Durham with his wife and son during the first lockdown.

In a breach of restrictions, Cummings travelled 250 miles to his parents’ property in Durham, after his wife developed coronavirus-related symptoms.

Despite calls for him to resign over the journey – which included a trip to local beauty spot Barnard Castle to check the quality of his eyesight – Cummings was backed by the Prime Minister before he quit six months later.

Chris Curtis, from Opinium Research, added: “In terms of what impact stories like this might have on compliance with rules, we do have a good case study from the Cummings saga last year.

“After that trip, 21% said they were following the rules less strictly than a week before and of that 21%, 32% wrote in an open text box in a follow-up question that Cummings was the reason they were breaking the rules more.

“That makes around 7% of the public who openly said they started following the rules less because of Cummings.”

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