Downing Street spin doctor ‘gave speech and handed out joke awards at illicit bash’
Fresh allegations have emerged over the alleged illicit Downing Street party held while London was under tough Covid restrictions in December 2020.
They centre around Jack Doyle, the Prime Minister’s press chief who has been leading the Government’s response to the Christmas bash allegations since they first emerged at the start of December.
Meanwhile, two new polls released overnight show the saga has dented the Conservative Party’s support, with one giving Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour a major lead over Boris Johnson.
And the PM has also come under further scrutiny for the Downing Street flat refurbishment, for which the Tories were fined by the Electoral Commission on Thursday (9 December).
It follows a series of revelations this week about the alleged festivities in Downing Street last year, including the publication of a video showing staff joking about the event and allegations that other parties took place while the rest of the UK faced fines for doing so.
Fresh Downing Street party allegations
The new allegations about the Downing Street party were revealed by ITV News last night.
It has emerged that Boris Johnson’s serving press chief Jack Doyle, who was then the deputy director of communications in Downing Street, led the festivities at the 18 December 2020 event.
Mr Doyle, who has been a key player in the Government’s response to the allegations for the last 10 days, was claimed to have made a speech and conducted a joke awards ceremony at the illicit bash.
It is thought he addressed around 50 people at the celebration.
The awards were not an unusual occurrence, according to ITV’s sources, as it is understood senior figures would thank staff at the end of each week.
Downing Street has refused to comment further than to say a fact-finding review was ongoing.
Mr Doyle has been approached for comment.
Senior Tory MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, who is treasurer of the influential 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, told BBC Newsnight that the PM “needs to get a grip” and that “the truth must come out” about the various allegations levelled at Downing Street.
Tories slump in the polls
The Conservative Party faces further bad news this morning (10 December) after two polls released overnight showed a slump in support for the Government and Boris Johnson, suggesting the Downing Street party claims have cut through to the general public.
A Survation poll in the Daily Mirror that was conducted on 1 December, immediately after the allegations of a Christmas party first emerged in the paper, found Labour had opened up a six-point lead over the Tories.
Labour gained a single percentage-point swing in support taking it to 40%, while the Conservatives fell two percentage points to 34%.
It marks the largest poll lead for the party during Boris Johnson’s premiership and is the first time Survation has had Labour on 40% since January 2019, when Theresa May’s administration was on the ropes over Brexit.
Another poll conducted for The Times by YouGov has also shown Labour in the lead, albeit by four points.
The YouGov poll puts Labour on 37%, up four points, and the Conservatives on 33%, down three points.
For YouGov, it’s the biggest lead Labour has had since the depths of the last national Covid lockdown in January 2021.
The polling also found three-quarters of people believe that there was a Christmas party in which coronavirus rules were broken, while 68% of those polled believe Mr Johnson was not telling the truth when he denied it.
Downing Street inquiry a ‘sham’
These polls come despite Boris Johnson aiming to steady his ship on Wednesday (8 December) by announcing his top civil servant, Simon Case, would lead an internal inquiry into whether an 18 December 2020 Downing Street party took place.
Last night, this inquiry was extended to include a 10 December gathering in the Department for Education (DfE) - one which DfE has already apologised for - and a 27 November gathering during the 2020 ‘firebreak lockdown’ that was allegedly attended by Boris Johnson.
The terms of reference for the investigation are: “where there are credible allegations relating to other gatherings, these may be investigated”.
On Thursday night, following the latest claims about Jack Doyle, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner described this inquiry as a “sham”.
“As more details emerge about the Downing Street Christmas party, the Government’s internal investigation has been exposed as the sham it is.
“The investigation has only just published its terms of reference and we are already seeing more details from the media than the Cabinet Office about the parties.”
Labour has also gone on the attack over new information about the Downing Street flat refurbishment, after the Electoral Commission fined the Conservatives £17,800 for "failing to accurately report a donation" that paid for the work.
The opposition party has accused Mr Johnson of lying to his standards adviser Lord Geidt by saying he did not know who was behind a £52,000 payment to cover bills believed to have been as high as £200,000.
Tory donor Lord Brownlow was behind the payment.
Official documents released by the Electoral Commission reveal the PM had texted Lord Brownlow asking for more cash for the revamp.
Friday’s Daily Mail reported Lord Geidt is on the brink of resigning over the matter.
No. 10 has insisted Mr Johnson has been honest and followed the rules “at all times”.
Additional reporting by PA