Jack Doyle: Boris Johnson’s top communications adviser ‘was at party in No 10’, report says

Report comes as inquiry into Downing Street gatherings widened

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Thursday 09 December 2021 21:27
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No 10 Christmas party: a look into the government’s festive scandal

Pressure on Boris Johnson over Downing Street parties has been stepped up after it emerged that his top communications adviser handed out awards to staff on the night of an alleged Christmas do.

No 10 head of communications Jack Doyle gave a thank you speech to press office workers on 18 December last year, the date of a party with alcohol food and a secret Santa believed to have been attended by as many as 50 people in breach of Covid restrictions.

Labour said that Mr Doyle’s presence, first reported by ITV News, exposed the investigation being carried out by Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, as “a sham” and showed that Mr Johnson was “unfit to lead”.

The development raises questions over the information issued to journalists by Downing Street spokespeople, who have previously insisted that no party took place on that date.

And it will inevitably spark questions about who gave Mr Johnson the assurances, which he mentioned in the House of Commons on Wednesday, that “there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”.

Downing Street declined to comment on the ITV report, with the prime minister’s official spokesperson telling The Independent that “We are not commenting further while the cabinet secretary Simon Case is doing his fact-finding work.”

The Independent understands that Doyle – who at the time was deputy comms chief in No 10 – gave a short thank you speech to members of his team who had been working on the Covid response.

He is understood to have handed out awards to staff for their work, which a source familiar with the situation said was done regularly each week.

It is not yet known whether food or alcohol was being consumed, or other party activities were under way, at the time he was present.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said the report indicated that Mr Johnson was “unfit to lead”.

“As more details emerge about the Downing Street Christmas party, the government’s internal investigation has been exposed as the sham it is,” said Ms Rayner.

“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.

“We all know there was a party that broke the rules. The Conservatives think it’s one rule for them, and another for everyone else.

“The prime minister is unfit to lead.”

The row came as the latest voting intention poll, by Survation, gave Labour its biggest lead since Mr Johnson took power in 2019, with a six-point advantage on 40 per cent to the Conservatives’ 34.

The development came as the investigation ordered by the prime minister into allegations of pre-Christmas parties in government buildings was widened to cover a separate gathering reportedly hosted in No 10 on 27 November and a festive event at the Department for Education (DfE) on 10 December.

Mr Johnson ordered his most senior civil servant to conduct the probe in response to a leaked video showing government officials joking about a festive party, which led to the resignation on Wednesday of the prime minister’s former press secretary Allegra Stratton.

Updating MPs, Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis said the cabinet secretary will be tasked with establishing “swiftly a general understanding of the nature of the gatherings, including attendance, the setting and the purpose”.

“If required, the investigation will establish whether individual disciplinary action is warranted,” he insisted, adding that all ministers, special advisers and civil servants will be expected to cooperate.

However, there was no reference to an allegation made by Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s former senior adviser, of a separate party held in the Downing Street flat on 13 November.

Posting on social media on Wednesday, Mr Cummings said: “Will the CABSEC [cabinet secretary] also be asked to investigate the *flat* party on Fri 13 Nov, the other flat parties, & the flat’s ‘bubble’ policy…”.

The date identified by Mr Cummings was the same day he left Downing Street after losing a power struggle and just eight days after the prime minister imposed England’s second national lockdown in response to surging Covid rates.

Elsewhere, Mr Ellis confirmed that if any evidence emerges of behaviour that is a potential criminal offence, “the matter will be referred to the police and the Cabinet Office’s work may be paused.

He said: “I must emphasise that the matters relating to adherence to the law are properly for the police to investigate and the Cabinet Office will liaise with the police as appropriate”

Speaking about the investigation, Labour shadow Cabinet Office minister, Fleur Anderson, said: “I don’t think we need to call them alleged parties, they are the parties”.

The extent to which the party scandal has shaken Tory support for Mr Johnson’s leadership was laid bare in an interview in which a “Red Wall” MP repeatedly declined to say whether he had confidence in the PM.

Chris Green, MP for Bolton West, suggested the prime minister had only imposed plan B Covid restrictions on Wednesday to distract from the furore over last year’s parties.

Asked on BBC Radio Manchester if he still had confidence in Mr Johnson, Mr Green paused for six second before saying: “I’m very concerned about what the prime minister is doing.”

Challenged again, he waited another five seconds before saying the government would find it difficult to pass Covid rules in the Commons.

And asked once more whether he still had confidence in the PM, the Tory backbencher paused for eight seconds, before admitting: “I think the silence does speak volumes.”

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