Wes Streeting has urged the government to “come clean” over the party reportedly held in contravention with Covid rules in the run-up to Christmas last year or risk undermining public compliance with the restrictions.
Making his parliamentary debut as Shadow Health Secretary this evening, Streeting told Health Secretary Sajid Javid this evening that “public compliance with the rules will depend on public confidence in those setting the rules”.
Claims emerged last week that between 40 and 50 people attended two events where they were crammed together “cheek by jowl”, in what one source described as a “Covid nightmare”, while the capital was under restrictions.
The story broke soon after government public health expert Dr Jenny Harries advised that people should cut down on socialising this Christmas as it emerged that the new Omicron variant had been spreading across the country.
Following the November lockdown last year, each area across the country were placed by the government into varying ‘tiers’, of which there were initially three, determining what people were and were not allowed to do.
Boris Johnson placed London, which had the highest Covid case rates in the country, into tier three on December 16th. This meant people were banned from all indoor mixing except within their household bubbles.
According to the rules in place at the time, the only legally permissible way under the regulations for either of the reported Downing Street gatherings to have taken place was if it was “reasonably necessary for work”.
One source told The Mirror that there were “many social gatherings” in No 10 in the run-up to Christmas last year while the public faced restrictions, suggesting that there were “always parties” in the flat Boris Johnson shares with wife.
“Residents in Ilford are this week being prosecuted for holding an indoor gathering of two or more people on the 18th December 2020, and rightly so,” Streeting added today.
“Isn’t it time that the government comes clean about the events in Downing Street on that same day, admit they broke the rules and apologise. Or does the Secretary of State believe, as the Prime Minister appears to, that it’s one rule for them and another rule for everyone else.”
Johnson, during Prime Minister’s Questions last week, said that no Covid rules were broken but did not deny that the party had taken place on December 18th. Keir Starmer told parliament that “both of those things can’t be true”.
Labour MP Barry Gardiner wrote to Cressida Dick urging her to investigate the reports of the Christmas gatherings held last year after the Metropolitan Police commissioner revealed that the police were not looking into the matter.
Pressed on the issue during an appearance on The Andrew Marr Show last week, the Justice Secretary Dominic Raab told viewers that the police “don’t normally look back and investigate things that have taken place a year ago”.
Streeting today also welcomed the U-turn on pre-departure Covid testing for people coming to the UK, pressed the minister on what is being done to tackle vaccine hesitancy and pushed Javid to make isolation pay more generous.
The new Shadow Health Secretary was promoted to the post, from the shadow education team, last week amid a wider reshuffle of Keir Starmer’s frontbench. His predecessor, Jonathan Ashworth, is now the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary.
Streeting told The Mirror last week that the “priority is to recruit, train and retain staff for the long term” with better pay and conditions, but added that it is “not simply about money” but also needed “reform to deliver results”.