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Downing Street party: Government ministers refuse to go on radio and TV to defend event

Sajid Javid withdraws from interview with no replacement offered

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Wednesday 08 December 2021 09:22 GMT
Government ministers cancel all morning interviews following leaked Christmas party video

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.

All Britain’s main national broadcasters empty-chaired the government as the political storm broke. It is understood that Sajid Javid, the health secretary, was due to appear on the BBC, ITV, and Sky News at breakfast time – but withdrew from the regular slot following the release of the video.

The dynamite 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."

Viewers on BBC Breakfast television were meanwhile told: "Usually at this time here on Breakfast we would be able to put your questions to a government minister as part of a slot we've had on the programme at 7.30am pretty much every morning since the start of the pandemic.

"We had been hoping to speak to the health secretary Sajid Javid ... but this morning no one has been available to speak to us. So this is the shot of the Westminster studio that we would normally show to you this time most mornings of the week. As you can see there's nobody there today, and that's every unusual. The camera's ready, the seat's there, we can take an interview at any moment."

The presenters of ITV’s Good Morning Britain said they were “still waiting for somebody from the government to turn up today”, and issued a challenge”:

“If any Conservative MP, anybody connected to the government is watching and you would like to take your duty and answer to those people who lost family members, there is a Westminster seat available for a government minister this morning.

“We'll take anyone. Anybody from the Conservative party, any MP who feels that it is their duty to address the nation, address their constituents, address the 140,000 people who lost family members in hospitals, followed the rules, couldn't attend funerals, couldn't be at hospital bedside while people partied in Downing Street.”

And on Sky, presenter Kay Burley said: “Normally we'd ask a government minister about this. We were told originally that it was going to be the health secretary Sajid Javid because of course it's the first anniversary of the first vaccine being administered. But sadly now we've been told that nobody's accepted our invitation. We've not even had a proper RSVP.”

Boris Johnson is due to be grilled by Labour leader Keir Starmer and other MPs at a session of 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."

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