Boris Johnson‘s government went to ground on Wednesday morning following the release of a video showing No.10 officials joking about a banned Christmas party.
In a highly unusual turn of events no government minister was made available to broadcasters on Wednesday morning to defend Downing Street’s record, despite invitations.
It is understood that Sajid Javid, the health secretary, was due to appear on the BBC and other broadcasters at breakfast time – but that he withdrew at the last minute following the release of the video.
The footage, obtained by ITV News, shows the prime minister’s then spokesperson laughing and joking with other officials about the Christmas party – which No.10 insists did not happen despite mounting evidence.
She jokingly suggests referring to the bash as a “business meeting” or “cheese and wine” to get around the rules.
Amid fury over the footage no alternative minister was offered to broadcasters by the government to represent its position – prompting speculation that the administration was unable to muster anyone willing to go on air and defend it.
The Independent understands that even allies of the prime minister were shocked by the footage and believe it is indefensible.
Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, presenter Nick Robinson said: “We were expected to speak to the Health Secretary. That invitation was kept open after the video emerged last night, but the government chose to withdraw that interview with Sajid Javid.”
He added: “We would like to put some of those questions to a minister this morning.”
Boris Johnson is due to be grilled by Keir Starmer and other MPs at prime ministers questions later on Wednesday.
Polls conducted before the release of the video showed a large majority of people want Mr Johnson to apologise, believe that the party happened, and that it could not have happened within the rules at the time.
Speaking on the BBC on Wednesday morning, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said: “Why would it be acceptable for the Prime Minister and his staff to pick up a drink and gather, and for everybody else not to be able to?
“It the staff of the Today programme had done this, you would have breached the rules. And like other journalists that breached the rules at the time, you would be under tremendous pressure in your job if you had done that.
“Why is there one rule for the Prime Minister and his staff and another rule for other people? Why have we got the Prime Minister spokesperson being frivolous and humorous about this fact?”
Mr Lammy said his party leader Sir Keir would “ask questions on behalf of the British people” at PMQs and also called for “a proper police investigation”.
Further footage emerged in the early hours of Wednesday morning of Tory Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg also joking about the unlawful government event.
In a bizarre stand-up routine for a crowd at a right-wing think-tank the Tory MP can be heard telling an audience, to laughter: “This party is not going to be investigated by the police in a year’s time.”