UK Covid live: Johnson aide apologises for ‘upset’ caused by party claims as PM misses urgent question

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Latest updates: paymaster general claims PM ‘retains confidence of the people of this country’ as Boris Johnson is criticised for failing to appear before MPs.


Christine Jardine (Lib Dem) says one of the things that kept us going last year was the sense we were all making sacrifices together. She says people feel they have been betrayed, and treated with contempt.

Ellis says Johnson is in a better position than most to know the impact of Covid, because of all the visits he makes. “He’s on the side of the people of this country,” says Ellis.


Ellis claims there is “no indication” that the PM has misled parliament.


Jim Shannon (DUP) asks about his mother in law who died alone last year. He breaks down with grief asking the question, and is unable to finish.

Ellis says he is sorry for Shannon’s loss.


Ellie Reeves (Lab) asks about a constituent not allowed visitors in hospital last year after giving birth. Will the minister apologise to mothers of lockdown babies who did the right thing while No 10 partied?

Ellis says he cannot prejudge the investigation. But of course it is a matter of regret that people were affected by the restrictions. Of course he expresses regret about that, unreservedly.


Naz Shah (Lab) mentions another family that lost a member last year, with only limited numbers allowed at the funeral. Will Ellis tell the PM to apologise?

Ellis says he is not trying to minimise what happened. But the restrictions were there for a good reason.


Vicky Foxcroft (Lab) ask what Ellis would say to constituents who lost a father last year, with only limited numbers allowed at the funeral.

Ellis offers his condolences. But the inquiry should be allowed to conclude, he says.


Kirsten Oswald (SNP) asks Ellis if he has asked the PM about this party.

Ellis says he will not say. He is answering questions today, the investigation will take its course, and Oswald will get answers then, he says.


Ruth Jones (Lab) criticises Boris Johnson for not being present and asks why anyone should ever believe the PM again.

Ellis says Johnson will be here tomorrow for PMQs.


Richard Burgon (Lab) says the public believe the PM is a liar. Isn’t the only way to restore public confidence for him to resign?

Ellis says he does not think the public believe that. But Burgon shouts out that two thirds of them do.

Burgon is right.


Sir Desmond Swayne (Con) says this affair should show ministers the perils telling everyone else how to order their lives. Swayne is one of the Tories most critical of lockdown measures.

All this should be a powerful corrective to the urge to order the rest of our lives, shouldn’t it?


Pete Wishart (SNP) says the PM should resign. “For goodness sake, man, go.”

Ellis says an inquiry is under way. Wishart should wait for its conclusions, he says.

Johnson ‘retains confidence of people of this country’, says minister

Ben Bradshaw (Lab) asks if the PM will resign if he is shown to have broken the law.

Ellis says that is a hypothetical question. The PM is going nowhere, he says. He says he “retains the confidence of the people of this country”.


Wendy Chamberlain (Lib Dem) says police officers were assaulted while enforcing Covid regulations. She says the PM should apologise to those officers.

Ellis says Boris Johnson has always been a strong supporter of the police. They know that.


Tony Lloyd (Lab), who had Covid last year, says his life was saved by medical staff who came forward to help him. Don’t they deserve better than what they are getting from No 10.

Ellis says we should not prejudge what happened. There are claims based on unknown sources. He says we should wait for the results of the inquiry.


Maria Eagle (Lab) says no self-respecting minister would come to answer this UQ without knowing the fact. Does he know if the PM attended the party?

Ellis says that is a matter for Sue Gray and her investigation. It is not a matter for him, he claims.


Charlotte Nichols (Lab) says a constituent was fined for breaking lockdown rules. She asks when he and all other people fined will get their money back, given that No 10 broke the rules too.

Ellis says Nichols should await the results of the inquiry.


Afzal Khan (Lab) says his mother died in hospital in March last year. He had to be outside in a car. When asked about the parties on Sky News, Johnson “smirked and laughed”. Will the PM apologise for the pain caused by the parties, and for lying about it.

Ellis says Johnson understands the pain caused by this. He urges Khan to wait until Sue Gray reports.


Ian Lavery (Lab) asks what advice he would give to a hypothetical PM who has lied to this country, who has lied to MPs, and who has laughed when people have died.

Ellis says the advice he would offer would be to be fair to all sides, and to listen to the evidence. That is what we expect in this country.


Catherine McKinnell (Lab) says support groups for alcoholics were not allowed to meet during lockdown. If No 10 was holding a party at the same time, that would be obscene, she says.


Sir Christopher Chope (Con) says the civil service must have known about the party on 20 May. Why did they not refer it to the inquiry earlier?

Ellis says the fact that a number of dates are being looked at will delay the investigation.

Video: May 2020: Dowden explains lockdown rules (Sky News)

May 2020: Dowden explains lockdown rules

What to watch next



Suzanne Webb (Con) says the time of the Commons would be better spent talking how the government will level up.

Ellis says Webb is right to say levelling up is important, but this matter is of concern too. It should be investigated.


Ellis is responding to Rayner.

There is a need for an investigation, he says. He says Sue Gray is a “paragon of independence and integrity”.

Johnson himself was affected by Covid, he says. He says Johnson “takes this matter very seriously”.

And, responding to Rayner’s question about whether he still views Johnson as a man of integrity and honour, he says he does.


Ellis says Boris Johnson will be in Commons for PMQs as usual tomorrow.


Angela Eagle (Lab) says it might be quicker for Sue Gray to investigate a day when there were no parties at No 10. She says 268 people died in hospital on the day the No 10 party was held. What is there to wait for? The PM should come here and “fess up”, she says.

Ellis says Eagle has a reputation for fairness, so she should see the case for allowing the investigation to conclude.


Peter Bone (Con) says he has “great confidence” in the PM. He says he was worried by Ellis’s comment that the inquiry might be paused if there is a Met inquiry.

Ellis says the PM wants the Gray inquiry to conclude quickly. But it is a matter for her.


Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, asks what should happen if an MP is found to have broken lockdown rules.

Ellis says it is not for him to say.


Maria Miller (Con) says MPs should debate these matters once the evidence has been collected.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, intervenes. He says he hopes Miller is not saying he was wrong to grant this UQ.

But Ellis says Miller’s point is a good one.


Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, says Johnson should resign. If he won’t, Tory MPs should force him from office.

Ellis says the rules apply to everyone. That is why there is an investigation. The result of the Gray inquiry will be in the public inquiry in due course, he says.


Rayner is responding to Ellis.

She says Boris Johnson’s absence speaks volumes. She says people have seen Johnson’s smirks on TV, and drawn their own conclusions.

She quotes an email from a person whose partner died in May last year – after she had been unable to get a GP appointment.

She says there is no need for an investigation. Johnson could answer the question today about whether he attended the party.

And she asks if Rishi Sunak knew about the party, pointing out he lives in Downing Street too.

Michael Ellis apologises for ‘upset’ caused by No 10 party ‘allegations’ as he responds to Labour UQ

Michael Ellis, paymaster general and a minister in the Cabinet Office, is now responding to the Labour urgent question about the Downing Street party revelations.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, asks the question. She says she wants the prime minister to make a statement on events in the Downing Street garden.

Ellis says the PM and he both spoke to MPs in December about the Sue Gray investigation.

He “apologises again unreservedly” for the upset these allegations have caused.

(If they are only allegations, why is there is a need for an apology?)

Ellis says the government has set out the terms of reference of the inquiry.

The allegations relating to 20 May will be included.

If wrongdoing is found to have taken place, disciplinary action will be taken, he says.

And he says if there is evidence of criminal behaviour, it will be referred to the police.


Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, has criticised Boris Johnson for not responding in person to the UQ on the No 10 party that is about to start. She said:

Despite having no official engagements listed today, the prime minister has again failed to turn up to parliament and face the music. His absence speaks volumes. Boris Johnson holds the British public in contempt.

At the No 10 lobby briefing the PM’s spokesman said it was “not uncommon” for another minister to be asked to reply to a question like this.

Ruth Davidson says No 10 party ‘makes mockery of idea we were doing national endeavour to keep each other safe’

Ruth Davidson, the former Scottish Conservative leader, has said that some people affected by Covid will never forgive the government after what they have learnt about partygate.

She told the BBC:

If No 10 doesn’t understand the anger that is out there, then they’re going to find out that anger pretty soon in the next couple of days because everybody has some form of sacrifice, or somebody important in their life that gave a huge sacrifice, that will never forgive whatever went on, because it just makes a mockery of this idea that we were doing a national endeavour to try and keep each other safe.

No 10 says it won’t respond to party revelations until Sue Gray’s inquiry over – and PM’s PPS still in post

The Downing Street lobby briefing has just finished and, on partygate at least, it was a masterclass in stonewalling. The PM’s spokesman took numerous questions about the party revelations, whether the PM stood by his many previous claims about no rules having been broken, about whether he has lied, and about the future of Martin Reynolds, Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary (PPS) who sent out the email party invitation.

We did learn that Reynolds has not already been sacked. He is still at work, the spokesman said, and Johnson still has confidence in him. But otherwise the spokesman would not engage with these questions at all. He just insisted that these were matters for the inquiry by Sue Gray, the senior civil servant investigating the various partygate allegations.


Sir Peter Fahy, a former chief constable of Greater Manchester police, has told Times Radio that the Metropolitan police should give a public explanation for their decision not to investigate, at least until now, parties at No 10 that may have broken lockdown rules. He said that, while the Met’s reluctance to investigate historic breaches of lockdown rules was understandable, this had now become a competence issue, affecting public confidence in the police. He said:

Normally, if an organisation is thought to have breached the law, you don’t leave it for that organisation to go away and investigate it themselves and wait for the result. And some people have said there’s quite a lot of police officers on duty around No 10, why did they not realise that there was something going on and report it, or at least give advice that this shouldn’t be going on?

So unfortunately it’s becoming, as well as an issue of political confidence, one of competence in the police and almost the investigation system.

Fahy said a statement from the Met was necessary “so the public do understand the reasoning as to why they’re going to investigate or not investigate”.


The Conservative MP Michael Fabricant has been defending Boris Johnson in an interview with BBC News. Fabricant expanded on the argument he posted on Twitter earlier, saying that this was a work gathering for people who had been working exceptionally hard. (See 10.04am.) He said that if Johnson had a fault, it was his loyalty to staff. He explained:

You know what, I‘d rather have a prime minister who felt for his staff and all those hard-working people than some cold fish who really couldn’t care a toss about them.

Michael Fabricant. Photograph: BBC News

© Provided by The Guardian
Michael Fabricant. Photograph: BBC News

Standards watchdog says ministers are showing ‘carelessness’ about standards, or worse

Lord Evans, the former MI5 boss who is now chairman of the committee on standards in public life, has just started giving evidence to the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee. The hearing is meant to be focusing mainly on the Greensill affair, and changes to governance rules but William Wragg (Con), the chair, asked Evans in the opening minutes about “more topical matters” and what impact they might have had on confidence in standards.

In reply, Evans said that a serious of issues recently, like the Owen Paterson affair, the controversy over the Downing Street flat refurbishment, had showed “at least a carelessness amongst people in government over standards issues, and possibly more than that”. He said polling suggests people are concerned about this. He said people want politicians to live up to the standards they profess to maintain.

Wragg said he thought Evans’ point was “quite correct”.

UPDATE: Evans said:

I think we have seen a whole series of issues over the last few months: the Owen Paterson affair, the attempt to change the rules over standards investigations in the middle of the investigation into Mr Paterson’s actions.

The questions around the redecoration of Downing Street, in particular the very bad processes that were clearly in place for keeping Lord Geidt properly informed.

The Greensill affair and now partygate.

All of those, I think, have demonstrated that there is – at least – a carelessness amongst people in government over standards issues, and possibly more than that.


Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, has said he does not expect junior Downing Street staff to be named in Sue Gray’s report into the partygate affair. Speaking on his Moggcast podcast, Rees-Mogg said “you wouldn’t expect the name of extremely junior people to be put into public highlights”. He went on:

I don’t know what’s happened, I have no idea what will be concluded. But if there is somebody on work experience, who happened to be there for a week, it would seem unfair that that person should be named publicly.

If, on the other hand, the Pope had popped in briefly, somebody of that seniority, you would expect that His Holiness would be named.

Geidt tells MPs he expects review of standards adviser role to give him ‘considerably greater authority’

The Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee has this morning published a letter (pdf) it received from Christopher Geidt, the PM’s independent adviser on ministerial standards, responding to questions from the committee about the Downing Street flat refurbishment inquiry.

In the letter, Lord Geidt repeats the point he made in letters published last week about how concerned he was by the PM’s failure to disclose WhatsApp messages undermined. Geidt says:

The episode shook my confidence precisely because potential and real failures of process occurred in more than one part of the apparatus of government. These failures were not, in my view, due to a lack of investigatory powers, but rather they showed insufficient care for the role of independent adviser.

Geidt also restates his belief that, because the PM has agreed to review his powers, he will emerge from this affair with his status enhanced. He says:

I would expect by the time of my next annual report in April to be able to describe the role of independent adviser in terms of considerably greater authority, independence and effect, consistent with the ambitions for the office that the prime minister has set out.

Downing Street has not yet published details of how Geidt’s role may be beefed up.


11:38 Robert Booth

This is from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign group.

And Lobby Akinnola, a campaigner from the organisation who lost his father, Femi, in April 2020, said that if Boris Johnson did attend the party on 20 May last year, his position was untenable. He said:

It’s blindingly obvious that Martin Reynolds has to go. If the prime minister was at this party then his position would be untenable. He’d have lost all moral authority to lead the country, after breaking his own rules that the rest of us followed, often at great sacrifice.

It’s beyond belief that the government seems to be suggesting a report is needed to determine whether Boris Johnson was at the event at all. He knows. The dozens of people there know. Why does the prime minister need someone to tell him whether or not he was at a party?

When this party took place, people couldn’t see their loved ones in their final moments. People couldn’t see friends and family. Last year Boris Johnson met with bereaved families in the Rose Garden, in the very site this booze-up took place, and looked us in the eyes and told us he had “done all he could” to save our loved ones. Now he needs to come clean to the country in a way that he didn’t with us.


Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, has challenged Boris Johnson to turn up in person to respond to the UQ she has tabled. (See 11.12am.)


Gavin Barwell, who was chief of staff to Theresa May when she was prime minister, is another Tory peer (see 9.59am) who thinks the government cannot just carry on delaying any substantive response to the No 10 party story until the Sue Gray report comes out.

Weekly Covid deaths in care homes in England at highest level since March 2021, figures show

11:19 Robert Booth

Omicron is starting to take a greater toll in England’s care homes, with deaths from Covid almost doubling in the first week of the new year to 122 from 65 in the last week of 2021. It represents the highest Covid death toll among care home residents since March 2021, according to weekly statistics on the deaths in care homes notified to the Care Quality Commission regulator.

Meanwhile care homes are continuing to struggle with staff shortages. Live figures this morning from internal health system capacity data seen by the Guardian showed 122 operators have declared a red alert on staffing, with 13,500 care workers off with Covid in England.

The impact of Omicron on staffing levels has seen hundreds of care homes shut their doors to hospital admissions, which is a big concern for NHS managers trying to free up beds. It also compounds an existing shortage of staff for the typically low-paid social care roles with around 60,000 fewer people in the workforce in October compared to May, according to analysis by the Health Foundation.

Speaker grants Commons urgent question on No 10 party revelations

There will be an urgent question in the Commons today on the latest No 10 party revelations, Labour has said.

We don’t yet know who will be responding. Just because the question is tabled for the PM that does not mean Boris Johnson will reply, and almost certainly he won’t. Rayner shadows Dominic Raab in his capacity as deputy PM, and so she would be entitled to expect him to turn up. But more often the government gets Steve Barclay, the Cabinet Office minister, to respond on topics like this. No 10 could even put up a more junior minister, like the paymaster general, Michael Ellis, who has form for wholeheartedy defending Johnson’s integrity in the chamber on days like this in circumstances that would defeat his less-loyalist colleagues.

West Midlands Tory mayor Andy Street says it was ‘incredible’ to learn of No 10 party last May

10:42 Jessica Murray

The Conservative mayor for the West Midlands, Andy Street, whose mother died of Covid last year, has said news of a party at Downing Street during the first lockdown is “pretty incredible” and that he is “very hungry” to find out what happened.

Speaking to BBC Radio West Midlands, Street said he was shocked when he read the news. He said:

When I saw this I thought, I can’t really believe this, if I’m honest. It was May 2020, a time when we were all restricted. My idea of going out was to walk along the canal with one friend, frankly, and I’m sure there’s lots of people in the West Midlands who have their own recollections of what they were doing in May 2020. So yes, it is very difficult to believe.

He said he hoped an inquiry into Downing Street parties would determine who attended.

What we don’t know is whether the prime minister was there. I obviously can’t possibly comment on that, but that’s why the inquiry has got to come.

And I’m sure that when the inquiry finds out the facts, then the conclusions and the consequences will be acted upon.


One of the many reasons why the partygate story is so damaging is that that there are countless examples of ministers saying that gatherings like the 20 May one in Downing Street last year should not have been taking place. Here are some examples.

From the FT’s Jim Pickard

From the Mirror’s Rachel Wearmouth

From the i’s Paul Waugh


Chris Curtis from Opinium posted a useful thread on Twitter last night looking at the polling on the partygate controversy, and how the scandal has affected support for the government and for Boris Johnson. It starts here.


10:20 Severin Carrell

Nicola Sturgeon has signalled Scotland’s stricter Covid regulations could be relaxed soon as she acknowledged a possible shift in strategy towards learning to live with the virus longer-term.

The first minister, who is due to update MSPs later today on Scotland’s Covid policies, said it was possible face masks could become normalised as society adapted to milder forms of Covid-19 becoming endemic.

That echoes similar signals recently from some health experts and UK government ministers, including Michael Gove, the levelling up minister, on Monday. In an interview with STV, Sturgeon said for her, that still involved some longer-term adjustments to normal life. She said:

Sometimes when you hear people talk about learning to live with Covid, what seems to be suggested is that one morning we’ll wake up and not have to worry about it anymore, and not have to do anything to try to contain and control it.

That’s not what I mean when I say ‘learning to live with it’. Instead, what we will have to ask ourselves is what adaptations to pre-pandemic life – face coverings, for example – might be required in the longer-term to enable us to live with it with far fewer protective measures.

Sturgeon said the virus remained deadly for some; NHS services may need to be re-configured with more patients treated outside hospital. “One of the things that we’ve been looking at recently is different patient pathways for people with Covid, to enable people to be treated at home,” she said.

Sturgeon is expected to propose changing the strict crowd limits at public events from 17 January, as Scottish football returns from its Christmas break and the Six Nations rugby tournament due to involve Scotland facing England at Murrayfield in early February.

With evidence growing the Omicron wave has been less severe than first feared, and may peak in Scotland this week, Sturgeon acknowledged the pre-Christmas anxieties about the severity of this surge had not been borne out. She said that was partly due to the strict controls her government introduced.

Some of our projections pre-Christmas have not quite come to pass because we’ve managed to mitigate to some extent what the Omicron wave would otherwise have presented for us.

Party revelations show PM has done ‘incalculable damage’ to trust in health measures, Labour says

Good morning. Partygate has now got a lot, lot worse for Boris Johnson. It would be surprising if the number of Conservative MPs coming to the conclusion that they will have a better chance of reelection at the next election under a different leader has not increased overnight, or if those Tories already inclined to that view are not feeling a bit more certain this morning.

It was not as if partygate was not highly damaging, and even potentially career-threatening, in the first place. But the latest revelations – starting with Dominic Cummings publishing a blog on Friday saying that there had been a lockdown-busting party in Downing Street on 20 May last year (“I and at least one other Spad [in writing so Sue Gray can dig up the original email and the warning] said that this seemed to be against the rules and should not happen”), followed by the Sunday Times suggesting that Boris Johnson was there, and culminating in ITV’s Paul Brand publishing the email invitation sent by Johnson’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds – have taken this to a new level. Here is our overnight story summarising the situation.

Related: Email shows Boris Johnson aide invited No 10 staff to lockdown ‘BYOB’ party

Why is this so much worse? There are at least three reasons.

1) No 10 has been able to half-defend previous partygate allegations by claiming that they were essentially work meetings involving some drink late in the day. For some events, like the 18 December Christmas party, this defence was highly improbable. But it does not function at all in the light of the email invitation from Reynolds sent to staff ahead of the 20 May do. Reynolds wrote:

Hi all, After what has been an incredibly busy period we thought it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden this evening. Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!

Even Lord Geidt would have to conclude that this was an invitation to a party, not a work invitation.

2) Boris Johnson was almost certainly there himself. Witnesses have told journalists he attended, and he and No 10 have declined multiple invitations to deny this. That means that another key defence deployed until now in response to partygate – that Johnson did not know what staff might have been up to in what is a relatively large office complex – is no longer tenable.

3) The Metropolitan police, who have done their best to avoid being dragged into previous allegations, seem more likely to investigate this one.

Edward Argar, the health minister, has been doing the morning interview round on behalf of No 10. He refused to explain what happened, sticking to the No 10 line from Monday that these were all matters for the partygate investigation being conducted by Sue Gray, a senior civil servant. But he said that “appropriate disciplinary action” should be taken if Gray found the rules had been broken, and that he could understand why people were “upset and angry” about the reports.

But Labour said that Johnson had to explain himself now instead of just waiting for the Gray investigation to conclude. Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader, said:

Boris Johnson’s deflections and distractions are no longer tenable.

Sue Gray is a highly respected civil servant who will be carrying out an investigation to the highest standard.

But the truth is out now. Not only did Boris Johnson know about the parties, he attended them and he lied.

It’s time for the prime minister to stop hiding behind Whitehall inquiries and finally come clean.

Rayner is referring to the many times Johnson told MPs in the Commons that no rules were broken (although generally Johnson was talking in response to questions about Christmas parties, rather than partying at any time).

Ed Miliband, the shadow climate change minister, made a similar argument on the Today programme. He said:

It’s all very well that we are having Sue Gray’s inquiry, but the prime minister cannot run and he cannot hide. He’s got to answer. If I went to a party, I know I went to the party. He’s got to explain – was he at the party?

How can he possibly justify all of the things he said in the House of Commons – that no rules were broken, that he did nothing wrong? He is going to have to answer.

It speaks to a rotten culture at the heart of this government and the rotten culture begins with the person in charge.

And this is from Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: Boris Johnson chairs cabinet.

10am: Lord Evans, chair of the committee on standards in public life, gives evidence to the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee on governance standards in the light of the Greensill affair.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

12pm: The Department for Education publishes pupil attendance figures.

12pm: Eluned Morgan, the Welsh government’s health minister, holds a Covid briefing.

After 12.45pm: MPs begin debating a Labour motion calling for VAT on fuel to be cut, and setting aside parliamentary time for a bill implementing this to be debated.

2.20pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, gives a statement to the Scottish parliament on Covid.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at [email protected]


Perhaps No 10 should have asked the Conservative backbencher Michael Fabricant to make the case for the government on the airwaves this morning. Fabricant seems to think that there was nothing wrong with the party in the no 10 garden in May last year (unlike Edward Argar, who was clearly uncomfortable having to put the government’s case). Fabricant has posted these on Twitter.


Ruth Davidson, the former Scottish Conservative leader, and now a member of the House of Lords, is not impressed by the government line that it has to wait until the Sue Gray report is out until it responds to the latest revelations about a No 10 lockdown-busting party.

Source: Thanks