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Tearful Allegra Stratton tonight dramatically resigned as a government aide in the wake of an explosive video showing her laughing about an ‘illegal’ Christmas party at No. 10.
The former prime minister’s spokeswoman announced that she had stopped offering a ‘deep apology’ for giving the impression that she was ‘taking lightly’ the Covid rules.
In emotional comments to reporters near her London home, Ms Stratton said: “My comments seemed to downplay the rules, rules that people were doing everything to obey. That was never my intention.
“I will regret those comments for the rest of my days.”
In the video, Ms. Stratton suggested that she had not personally attended the party, and joked that she “went home.”
The move came hours after Boris Johnson tried to quell the mounting anger by ordering an investigation by the cabinet secretary.
Johnson opened a raucous PMQ apologizing for images of Ms. Stratton and other staff joking about the meeting that took place on December 18 of last year, during the closing.
He said top government official Simon Case, who is not believed to have attended the party, would be investigating the situation.
Johnson said he was “ill” and that “disciplinary action” would be taken against any staff member who violated the rules, but insisted that he had been reassured “repeatedly” that the rules had been followed.
The prime minister asked the public to focus on the Omicron strain threat, and the Plan B measures are expected to be confirmed this afternoon. But Keir Starmer responded that Johnson had lost the “moral authority” to impose restrictions.
Conservative MPs also criticized the prime minister, calling the Covid change a ‘diversionary tactic’ from the No10 party rank, while Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross warned that he will have to resign if he finds out about the meeting when he issued the negatives.
Meanwhile, former assistant chief Dominic Cummings has weighed in on the grounds that there was a party on Johnson’s floor of grace and favor on November 13 of last year, the day he was expelled from Downing Street.
Mr. Case will also consider that former Education Secretary Gavin Williamson hosted a party during the holiday season, but he will significantly not consider any other events, meaning that nothing that the prime minister personally attended is in scope.
Beginning the fighting in the House, Johnson said: “ I understand and share the anger across the country to see that the staff at No. 10 seem to take closure measures lightly, and I can understand how infuriating it must be to think that people Who have been setting the rules have not been following the rules because I was also furious seeing that clip.
I unreservedly apologize for the offense you have caused across the country and I apologize for the impression you make.
But I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations arose that I had not departed and that Covid rules were not broken, and that is what I have been repeatedly assured.
“I have asked the cabinet secretary to establish all the facts and to inform me as soon as possible, and it goes without saying that if those rules are broken, there will be disciplinary action for everyone involved.”
Johnson said No10 would turn over any relevant evidence to police if requested.
But the Labor leader said: ‘An internal investigation into what happened, the situation is as clear as day. I thought last week was bad enough.
Surely the prime minister is not going to start pretending that the first thing he knew about this was last night. Surely we have all seen the video of the Prime Minister’s staff, including his personal spokesperson.
“They knew there was a party, they knew it was against the rules, they knew they couldn’t admit it and they thought it was fun.
‘Obviously it happened. Ant and Dec are ahead of the prime minister on this. The prime minister has been caught red-handed. Why doesn’t he end the investigation right now just by admitting it?
Mr Johnson responded: “Because I have been repeatedly assured that no rule was broken. I understand the public anxiety about this … but there is a risk of serious injustice to people who have outright obeyed the rules.
“That is why the cabinet secretary will carry out an investigation, and that is why, if necessary, the necessary disciplinary action will be taken.”
In a brutal attack, Sir Keir contrasted Johnson’s leadership with that of the Queen.
Johnson had hoped to corner the news agenda this week with a series of anti-crime measures, after weeks of scorching and sordid headlines.
But Health Secretary Sajid Javid withdrew from interviews this morning after footage surfaced showing former prime minister press secretary Allegra Stratton laughing at the meeting to end the lockdown last year.
While grieving families called the revelations a ‘bullet to the chest’, Scotland Yard is ready to probe the exchanges that took place during a rehearsal for a press conference.
Attorney General Suella Braverman was seen entering the building this morning, although it is unclear if her visit was related. Mr. Javid has also walked in, ignoring questions about why he avoided interviews.
Remarkably, there are signs that the government is preparing to announce a move towards Covid’s ‘Plan B’ restrictions to combat the Omicron strain, including blanket orders to work from home, plus use of masks starting today.
Such a change was not expected before the end of this week, and Johnson immediately faced accusations that he is deploying the ‘dead cat’ tactic, making a large newsworthy announcement to distract attention from another crisis.
Conservative MP William Wragg said in the House: ‘Covid passes will not increase acceptance of the vaccine, but will create a segregated society.
“Is my very honorable friend, the Prime Minister, aware that very few will be swayed by this diversionary tactic?”
Johnson replied: “No decisions will be made without consulting the Cabinet.”
President Lindsay Hoyle said she had not yet been notified that there will be a ministerial statement on Covid later. “He must be here first,” warned Sir Lindsay.
BBC Breakfast took the extraordinary step of presiding blankly over Javid this morning when Vaccine Minister Maggie Throup also pulled out of her planned round of regional television interviews. On ITV’s Good Morning Britain, host Susanna Reid slipped that the government was “cheating” by pretending there is no need to answer questions.
The Ms Stratton footage was filmed on December 22 last year, four days after the alleged ‘drunk’ party and when London was under strict Level 3 coronavirus restrictions. The revelation follows a week of tortured denials from the Number 10 that there was a ‘party’, despite dozens of staff members allegedly trading ‘Secret Santa’ gifts and drinking after midnight at an event said to have included party games.
In the Commons, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford demanded Johnson’s resignation, saying that he “can no longer lead the most pressing issue facing these islands.”
Mr Blackford said: “Trust and leadership are a matter of life and death. Downing Street willingly broke the rules and mocked the sacrifices we have all made, breaking the public’s trust. The Prime Minister is responsible for losing the trust of the people. He can no longer lead the most urgent problem facing these islands.
“The prime minister has a duty, the only moral and correct option left to him: his resignation. When can we expect it?
But Johnson responded: “The opposite party and, in fact, the opposite party are going to continue doing politics. I’m going to get on with work. ‘
Scottish Conservative leader Mr Ross told STV News that Mr Johnson had “serious questions to answer on this issue”.
He said that he trusted the prime minister, but added: ‘When he made statements last week, they seem to be very different from what he is saying this week and the video evidence that has emerged.
“That is a really serious issue for him, for his government and for everyone who was involved in what happened in Downing Street last December.
‘The public deserves answers because the public has sacrificed a lot during this pandemic and they see it extremely vaguely. It is understandable that they are angry about what has happened and the fact that this has been hidden in some way since last year. ”
Ross told Scotland’s BBC: “If the prime minister knew about this party last December, he knew about this party last week and he was still denying it, then that is the most serious accusation.
“There is absolutely no way that he can fool parliament into thinking that he could get away with it.”
The government is drawing up new plans for Brits to work from home and for offices to be closed to stem an increase in the number of cases of Omicron variants during the holiday period.
BBC Radio 4’s Today show said Javid was scheduled to appear this morning, but canceled after the footage emerged.
Host Nick Robinson said: “We expected to speak to Health Secretary Sajid Javid this morning, but just minutes after the video came out, no minister would be available to speak about the show today.” Javid was also supposed to appear in media such as BBC1, Sky News and Times Radio.
The damning clip, which was leaked to ITV News, shows Ms Stratton and her assistants joking about the cheese and wine and suggesting that the “fictitious” event was not “socially estranged.” Miss Stratton, still on the 10th payroll and earning £ 125,000 a year, was practicing for planned television briefings, which were later cut.
At the time of the alleged event, on 18 December, Christmas parties were banned, under penalty of £ 10,000 fines, and many families were even prohibited from visiting their dying loved ones. In the capital it was forbidden to mix indoors with people from other homes.
Number 10 continued to insist last night that there had been no ‘Christmas party’ and that the coronavirus rules were followed at all times. But ministers were appalled by the crude video, with one privately describing it as “gruesome.”
Insiders fear that the release of the toxic images could unleash a wave of public anger, akin to fury over Dominic Cummings’ trip to Barnard’s Castle at the height of the first confinement.
A Downing Street source acknowledged that the video was a ‘disaster’, adding: ‘No 10 attendees laugh at their party as thousands mourn for their dead.’
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss insisted we ‘follow Covid rules’ when she was questioned about the alleged party at a Chatham House event.
She said: ‘As for the alleged events in Issue 10, I don’t know the details of what happened.
“I know that the prime minister’s spokesman answered those questions in detail yesterday and I am sure there will be more discussions on that issue.”
When asked why citizens should trust an administration that did not follow the rules, she added: “We follow the Covid rules.”
But “I do not know the precise circumstances and I know that the prime minister’s spokesman has addressed that issue.”
A Conservative MP told MailOnline that most of the colleagues were “waiting to see what the PM says in the PMQs.”
“ You need to go out today and be direct and say what happened. Not responding will not work. They may be planning to fire some people.
The backbencher noted that future investigations will uncover details anyway. “If he has done something wrong, go to Parliament and explain it. He has a much better chance of getting his way.
‘The cover-up is what gets you. So you have to be brutally honest. ‘
“They won’t be the only people having an illegal party at the moment, but you don’t have an illegal party at number 10, do you?”
The MP also suggested that Cummings and his allies may have been involved in the video leak. It has to be someone older. Who had them and kept them for so long? It feels like a Cummings operation, ‘they said.
Becky Kummer of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice said: “ There are simply no words to describe how upsetting and embarrassing it is to hear Boris Johnson’s team laugh at breaking the rules they had created, while others followed them and just they were able to say goodbye to their loved ones through a screen. It’s the behavior of people who think they are above us. ‘
Allegra Stratton Quick and Facts
- Allegra Stratton has resigned as a government spokeswoman apologising for comments about No10 party
- The footage showed Downing Street aides joking about the festive gathering at a mock press conference
- Boris Johnson faced the wrath of Tory MPs as he apologised for the video at PMQs in Commons this afternoon
- Ex-Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has been accused of hosting another event under Tier 2 measures
- Former Cabinet minister delivered speech to two dozen guests at a ‘reckless’ drinks and canapes event