Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale has warned the “game’s up” for Boris Johnson if he deliberately misleads the House of Commons over a Christmas party held at No 10 during lockdown restrictions last winter.
It comes after leaked footage from Downing Street’s multi-million pound press briefing room emerged on Tuesday evening, showing senior aides to the prime minister laughing as they rehearsed potential questions over a banned festive party.
The video, which is reported to be from December 22 last year, refers to a party on “Friday” — which would have been December 18, the same day The Daily Mirror reported there was a staff party where food and drinks were served, and revelries went on past midnight.
Just last night, however, a Downing Street spokesperson insisted: “There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times”.
Asked on the BBC whether he would believe the prime minister if he claims later today there was no Christmas party, Sir Roger said: “If he says that on the record at the despatch box, yes I will have to believe him because to do otherwise would be discourteous and wrong.
“If it is then found he has misled Parliament deliberately then that is a hanging offence. Downing Street saying something and the prime minister saying something at the despatch box are two different matters.”
Pressed further, the Tory MP said: “I think the chairman of the 1922 committee Sir Graham Brady would have to carry a very clear message to the prime minister under those circumstances… meaning, the game’s up.”
Offering his assessment of the situation as news of the footage emerged on Tuesday evening, Sir Roger also told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in a separate interview: “There was first of all incredulity, then hollow mirth, and then I think a feeling of total exasperation”.
“There has to be an answer, a clear answer, from Downing Street and it has to happen by lunchtime today,” he said.
Asked whether there were changes necessary at No 10, including the prime minister’s chief of staff, he said: “I’m not going to try and scapegoat.
“For a start of course the present chief-of-staff was not in post last Christmas when all of this may or may not have happened so I think it would be quite wrong for him to carry the can. The buck actually stops at the top, doesn’t it?”
Referring to lockdown trip to Barnard Castle by the former No 10 adviser Dominic Cummings in 2020, which provoked public outrage, the Tory MP added: “I fear that this could be a Barnard Castle moment all over again. It is very serious”.
Conservative peer Baroness Warsi also called for anyone found to have attended the festive event to resign. “Every minister, parliamentarian and staffer at the Downing Street party must resign NOW. No ifs no buts,” she posted on social media.
The former party chair added: “The rule of law is a fundamental value, the glue that hold us together as a nation. Once that is trashed by those in power the very essence of our democracy is at stake.”
Sir Charles Walker, vice chair of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers and lockdown-sceptic, claimed that the leaked clip “makes it almost impossible” for the government to introduce any new lockdowns.
“These are the consequences of the video – you have to deal with consequences as they come up,” the lockdown sceptic told Times Radio. “Going forward any measures will be advisory.”
Sir Charles added: “It will be very difficult to enshrine them in law. I know behavioural psychologists have said that post-Barnard Castle there was a fall-off in compliances … so I think there will be issues about that.”
Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons Education Committee, said that government aides should say sorry – but stopped short of calling for Boris Johnson himself to apologise.
“I certainly think that those who were doing the video should apologise for the insensitivity of it when people were suffering and struggling all through that time,” he said.