Dominic Raab has acknowledged that a “formal party” in Downing Street last Christmas would have breached Covid-19 guidance but insisted the allegations were “unsubstantiated”.
The Justice Secretary on Sunday became the first Cabinet minister to concede that if reports of two crowded gatherings in Number 10 were accurate, they would have run “clearly contrary to the guidance”.
However, he continued to maintain the Government’s line that the rules had been followed at all times, adding that the onus was on the complainants to come forward and provide evidence.
It follows reports last week that a party was held in Number on December 18 last year when London was under Tier 3 restrictions and the rules explicitly banned work Christmas lunches and parties.
A second leaving do was also reportedly held the previous month for a senior aide, when the country was in the grip of a second lockdown.
On Saturday, the Metropolitan Police said it was considering complaints submitted by two Labour MPs, even though it did not normally investigate retrospective breaches of the Covid regulations.
‘I don’t know the full facts because I wasn’t there’
Asked about the controversy yesterday, Mr Raab told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “Until there is something substantiated, until it is more than anonymous sources, I think we are chasing shadows.
“If there is a breach of the rules, there is a breach of the rules. But I don’t know the full facts because I wasn’t there.
“Of course, if there was a formal party held, of course that is something that is clearly contrary to the guidance. If something unsubstantiated from anonymous sources actually materialised, then of course it would be wrong.”
Seizing on his remarks, Anneliese Dodds, the Labour Party chair, said: “These comments from his deputy pile the pressure on Boris Johnson to come clean about what happened last Christmas and publish the full facts about the party at No 10.”
No Christmas party for Ministry of Justice
Meanwhile, Mr Raab also revealed his department had decided against holding its own Christmas Party this year and would instead be holding “appropriate drinks on a small scale.”
Asked to clarify what appropriate constituted, Mr Raab said every employer needed to adopt a “common-sense” approach, while also stressing: “The government wants people to be able to enjoy Christmas this year.”
“That means people should feel free to go and enjoy those celebrations and every employer will think about the right way to do it,” he told Sky News.
He later told Times Radio that the department would normally hold an event in its interior atrium, adding: “I look forward to next year.”
It comes after it emerged last week that the Department for Education had cancelled its annual talent show, despite Boris Johnson urging the public not to cancel parties or school nativity plays.
The Telegraph has been told that the Cabinet Office, the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, the Northern Ireland Office and Department for Business are also not holding large parties for their Whitehall staff.
Sources stressed that many departments, due to their size, did not hold formal parties, with most instead opting for casual dinners and events among smaller teams and groups of employees.
It comes amid mounting concern over Omicron, with scientists yesterday warning that the imposition of travel restrictions were unlikely to stop the new Covid variant from spreading further.
Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the new variant had come at an “appalling” time, with the next two weeks likely be the “highest risk periods” of the year due to “a lot of indoor socialising”.
He added that while the Government would “love not to disrupt” Christmas, “more stringent measures” could be required in the new year.
Sir David suggested this was likely to include instructing people to work from home again, which he said was “extremely effective” and shown to “halve the number of close contact people have.”