Angela Rayner has said that the public has a “right to know” which senior Conservatives, alongside Boris Johnson, joined the Covid May 2020 social gathering held in Downing Street at the height of the pandemic.
Following an apology from the Prime Minister earlier today about the rule-breaking party, while insisting that he believed it was “a work event”, Rayner called on others in his party to “come clean” over their involvement.
Tory MP Simon Hoare told Sky News that the No 10 party was hosted as a “thank you” to Dominic Raab for deputising while the Prime Minister was ill with Covid and a “welcome back” for Johnson.
Responding to the allegations, a spokesperson for Raab said this is “categorically untrue”, adding that the now Justice Secretary “wasn’t invited and didn’t attend”.
“If the deputy Prime Minister also attended this party he needs to come clean. The public has a right to know if any other senior Tories were at this party while the rest of the country was locked down,” the deputy Labour leader said.
“Rather than running away hundreds of miles, the Chancellor, who lives next door, should finally answer questions of how he could have been unaware of boozy parties immediately outside his own office. Time for them all to come clean.”
Johnson issued an apology at the start of Prime Minister’s Questions today after an email was leaked to ITV News showing his principal private secretary Martin Reynolds inviting Downing Street staff to “some socially distanced drinks”.
“I want to apologise,” he said, but added: “No 10 is a big department with the garden as an extension of the office, which has been in constant use because of the role of fresh air in stopping the virus.” He said he attended to thank staff and because he “believed implicitly that this was a work event”.
Raab was present at Prime Minister’s Questions this afternoon. Rishi Sunak, touted as a potential successor to Johnson, did not appear. The Chancellor skipped the parliamentary exchange to visit a business in Devon instead.
Keir Starmer used the session to call, for the first time, for Johnson’s resignation. Polling by Savanta Comres and YouGov on Tuesday found that a majority of the public believe the Prime Minister should step down from his role.
Both pollsters found that a significant proportion of voters who backed the Tories in the 2019 election (42% and 33% respectively) think Johnson should go and that, according to Savanta Comres, the percentage who think he should resign is 12 points higher than in its poll in the wake of party allegations in December.
Johnson has also been under pressure from MPs within his own party in the wake of the latest reports. One told the BBC: “We should get rid of him.” Another Conservative MP remarked that it is “Goodnight Vienna“.
According to BBC Newsnight’s sources, letters have been going into the 1922 committee. Letters from 15% of the parliamentary Tory Party – the threshold is currently 54 MPs – would trigger a leadership contest.
Further details of the party emerged this morning. Two sources told The Times that Johnson attended the Covid rule-breaking social gathering in the garden of No 10, with one saying he was “wandering round gladhanding people”.
The BBC reported on Tuesday evening that senior Downing Street political staff had to intervene during the first half of 2021 to prevent other social events, such as leaving parties for members of the team, going ahead.
Two sources told The Independent that No 10 workers were told by a senior member of staff that it would be a “good idea” to “clean up” their phones by removing any information that could suggest that lockdown parties took place.