THE top civil servant tasked with investigating alleged Downing Street parties in lockdown may be removed after claims there were also parties in his own department.
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case was asked by the Prime Minister to examine whether unlawful social gatherings took place in Number 10 late last year.
His remit was later expanded to look at any alleged party he felt was relevant.
Both Mr Johnson and Tory chairman Oliver Dowden have said they were sure Mr Case’s investigation would find no wrongdoing.
However the Guido Fawkes website today reported that Mr Case’s office hosted two Christmas parties in the Cabinet Office in December 2020 while London was under lockdown restrictions.
One was said to have been organised in advance, the other more impromptu.
The BBC later reported that Mr Case had been present at the first event, which was described as a Christimas quiz with food and drink, and that his position leading the investigation was now in doubt.
SNP Westminster leader Blackford said Mr Case should be removed from the investigation.
He said: “The Prime Minister’s appointed lead investigator into the Downing Street parties has also been reported to have hosted a party in his office – whilst thousands were forced to spend the Christmas season apart as a result of necessary coronavirus restrictions. He, along with his inquiry report, must go.”
He said it was “vital there be an inquiry led by an independent arbitrator – someone who owes the UK government nothing”, and in a letter to the PM suggested it be judge-led.
“Put simply, the public suspected this was a rigged, limited internal investigation and an attempt to dodge accountability. They now know that the person appointed by you to investigate was also involved,” he wrote.
The Times also reported one of Cabinet Office parties was on December 17 – the day before the alleged Christmas party at Downing Street at the centre of the saga.
The newspaper said it was listed in digital calendars as “Christmas party!” and was organised by a private secretary in Mr Case’s team.
A joint investigation by Politico and The Independent claimed Mr Case shared drinks with between 15 and 20 staff at his office and in the waiting room outside the Cabinet Office.
In a statement, the Cabinet Office said: “These allegations are categorically untrue.”
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “With each revelation, there is more evidence of a culture of turning a blind eye to the rules.
“Labour made it clear the person leading the investigation should be uncompromised, free to make an independent judgement. That’s now in serious doubt.”
The two newly alleged gatherings bring the total number reported to 11.
This includes the claim at the centre of the rule-breaking allegations that a party was held for Downing Street staff on December 18.
Officials and advisers reportedly made speeches, enjoyed a cheese board, drank together and exchanged Secret Santa gifts, although the Prime Minister is not thought to have attended.
Mr Johnson’s spokeswoman Allegra Stratton quit after being filmed joking about it with fellow aides at a mock press conference.
The event is at the heart of Mr Case’s investigation.
The Department for Transport admitted a “socially distanced gathering in the large open-plan office” was held on December 16.
And Tory London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey has apologised “unreservedly” for attending a gathering at Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) organised by staff on his campaign team on December 14.
The Department for Education has also acknowledged a gathering on December 10.
On December 15, the Prime Minister appeared on contestants’ screens at a quiz but insisted he broke no rules.
An image published by the Sunday Mirror shows the Prime Minister flanked by colleagues, one draped in tinsel and another wearing a Santa hat, in No 10.
Downing Street admitted Mr Johnson “briefly” attended the quiz after the photographic evidence emerged but insisted it was a virtual event.
There are also allegations the Prime Minister’s then-fiancee Carrie Johnson hosted parties in their flat, in what would also have been a breach of Covid guidance, with one such event said to have taken place on November 13 – the night Dominic Cummings departed No 10.
Earlier today, party chairman Mr Dowden said he was “confident” that Mr Case’s inquiry into alleged Covid rule-busting parties would “vindicate” Mr Johnson’s assertion that no restrictions were breached.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I understand and I appreciate that there was a perception, particularly from the media coverage surrounding those alleged events, that we were not abiding by the rules.
“I have to say to you that there is an ongoing inquiry by the Cabinet Secretary and I’m confident that that inquiry will vindicate the Prime Minister’s assertion that everything that happened was within the rules.”