Archbishop of Canterbury appeals for honesty in public life

 Archbishop of Canterbury appeals for honesty in public life

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said leaders must “put their hands up” and “acknowledge where things have gone wrong”, as he spoke of his “disappointment” over Tory gatherings during lockdown.

The Most Rev Justin Welby refused to comment when asked whether Boris Johnson needed to be more honest.

However, discussing the allegations on a BBC podcast, he said: “You have to acknowledge where things have gone wrong and say, yes that was wrong.”

It came as the Metropolitan Police announced that it would be speaking to two people who attended a gathering at Conservative Party Campaign Headquarters on December 14 last year.

Images that emerged from that party resulted in Shaun Bailey, the Tories’ former London mayoral candidate, resigning from his role on a policing committee at the London Assembly and apologising “unreservedly” for the event.

In an interview for the Newscast podcast, the Archbishop said: “I notice the former mayoral candidate immediately stepped down. Well, that seems very honourable.

“That seems to me to be an honourable and proper way of doing it. Everyone gets things wrong.”

The Archbishop’s comments will add to the pressure Mr Johnson has found himself under since reports emerged of several gatherings in Downing Street last Christmas, which are alleged to have breached Covid restrictions.

The allegations have surfaced at the same time that Mr Johnson has introduced new restrictions to try to curb the huge surge in Covid cases, fuelled by the new omicron variant – with fears growing of a fourth lockdown in January.

On Wednesday, a further 745,183 boosters and third doses were recorded – the highest figure recorded to date, but below the one million target set by the Prime Minister last weekend.

Meanwhile, the number of Covid-19 cases topped 88,000, setting a new record for the second day in a row.

Archbishop ‘disappointed’ by pictures of CCHQ party during lockdown

The Archbishop spoke about the parties for the first time during an interview with Laura Kuenssberg, Adam Fleming and Chris Mason, political journalists for the BBC.

Asked how he felt seeing pictures of a party taking place in CCHQ while the country was in lockdown and he was visiting patients in hospital, the Archbishop told the Newscast programme: “On a human level … just disappointed, really.”

Pressed if he believed there was a need for prominent figures to be straight with the public, he added: “You just have to acknowledge where things have gone wrong and say: ‘Yes that was wrong.’

The Archbishop said he did not want to “prejudge” the investigations currently under way into the Westminster gatherings.

However, while admitting to making “many mistakes” himself, he added: “I don’t really do much on judging people, but we must obey the rules. We have to depersonalise it, let’s get away from that example, and I’d say: ‘Obey the rules, stick to the rules.’”

Asked whether he felt there had been an absence of responsibility in public life in recent years, he added: “Yes, I do. I think that goes back a very long way. 

“Yes, I think we need to recover that culture both of kindness and forgiveness, of distinguishing between blame and accountability, and we need much more of no-blame culture, a lessons-learned culture. And when people get things wrong, if they say: ‘I got that wrong,’ fine – learn the lessons, move on.”

While refusing to answer questions on Mr Johnson’s own honesty, he said it was “clearly essential” that a culture of honesty stemmed from the top.

He added: “Isn’t it wonderful that we have such an extraordinary example at the top, of the Queen with her complete integrity in every possible way.”

Mr Johnson has repeatedly insisted no rules were broken when confronted with allegations of gatherings at Downing Street last year, at a time when households were banned from social mixing.

He has, however, accepted the resignation of Allegra Stratton, his senior aide, over the matter.

With an investigation by the Cabinet Secretary now under way, The Telegraph has been told that a number of staff members, including No 10 press officers and aides, have already been hauled in for interview.

However, despite government sources suggesting on Monday that the investigation would conclude by the end of this week, it is now thought that Simon Case will not report back until next week at the earliest.

Fresh allegations of Downing Street party during first lockdown

On Thursday, Downing Street denied fresh allegations that Mr Johnson attended a “party” with staff during the first lockdown on May 15 last year, when people were only permitted to meet one other person from outside their household in an outdoor, public space.

Reports by The Guardian and The Independent alleged approximately 20 staff congregated in offices inside No 10 and outside in the garden, where they drank alcohol and ate pizza.

However, a No 10 spokesman insisted the garden had been regularly used by staff for meetings, adding: “On May 15 2020, the Prime Minister held a series of meetings throughout the afternoon, including briefly with the then-Health and Care Secretary and his team in the garden following a press conference.

“The Prime Minister went to his residence shortly after 7pm. A small number of staff required to be in work remained in the Downing Street garden for part of the afternoon and evening.”

The Daily Mirror also reported that civil servants in the Department for Transport held a Christmas Party on December 16 last year – the day that London was plunged into Tier 3 restrictions.

A spokesman for Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, insisted he had “absolutely no idea” the event had taken place.

The spokesman added: “He was not notified or invited and would have banned such a gathering forthwith, had he been made aware that it was being prepared.

“As he was unable to visit his seriously ill father in hospital due to Covid restrictions, he was all too keenly aware of the sacrifices being made by the public during lockdown.”

While Scotland Yard did not confirm the identities of those it wished to speak to in relation to the alleged CCHQ party, it is understood that officers tend to make contact with event organisers when probing alleged lockdown breaches.

In a statement, the force said: “In line with the Met’s policy, officers do not normally investigate breaches of coronavirus regulations when they are reported long after they are said to have taken place. 

“However, if significant evidence suggesting a breach of the regulations becomes available, officers may review and consider it.”

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