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Boris Johnson does not deny party held in Downing Street last Christmas

Boris Johnson and two senior Conservatives came under further scrutiny on Wednesday over their conduct, adding further pressure to a party seeking to recover from a barrage of “sleaze” allegations.

The UK prime minister insisted that no Covid rules were broken but did not deny allegations that a “boozy” party had been held in Downing Street last Christmas while the nation was in lockdown.

Johnson was challenged by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in the House of Commons after the Mirror newspaper reported that an informal party was held for staff in No 10 on December 18.

London was placed under the strictest tier 3 controls on social interactions on December 14, under which no mixing of households was permitted indoors.

Downing Street staff were classified as key workers during the lockdowns and so were allowed to continue working from their offices. However, the government’s own advice said: “Although there are exemptions for work purposes, you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier.”

Johnson was questioned about the party three times during prime minister’s questions and on each occasion did not deny it had happened. But he told the Commons that “all guidance was followed completely”.

One Downing Street insider told the Financial Times there often were get-togethers in the evenings in No 10 while the country was in lockdown last Christmas.

“It was the only place you could get together and socialise. They happened most Fridays and they were the only things that kept us going, bearing in mind we were the only people in Whitehall in the office working throughout”, the person said. “We weren’t seeing anyone else outside of work and were our own bubble.

“It was whoever was left, getting together to chat and drink and maybe some music. [There were] speeches for people leaving.”

The Mirror also reported that Johnson gave a speech at a leaving party held in No 10 on November 27, while the country was still in the second national lockdown.

The prime minister’s official spokesman also said that at “all stages the rules have been followed”. Johnson’s press secretary added: “We don’t recognise this account. As we’ve said, Covid rules have been followed at all times.”

In the Commons, Sir Keir asked Johnson: “Does the prime minister really expect the country to believe that while people were banned from seeing their loved ones at Christmas last year, it was fine for him and his friends to throw a boozy party in Downing Street?”

Meanwhile, the parliamentary standards commissioner, Kathryn Stone, announced she was investigating Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the Commons, following accusations he had failed to declare £6m of directors’ loans.

Stone said the inquiry related to the declaration of “employment and earnings” in the MPs’ code of conduct.

Labour had called for the watchdog to look into allegations that Rees-Mogg had failed to declare £6m of directors’ loans he received from one of his companies between 2018 and 2020.

Rees-Mogg has insisted the loans from Saliston Limited were properly declared and had either been repaid with interest in accordance with HM Revenue & Customs rules, or paid as dividends and taxed accordingly.

Rees-Mogg played a key role in the government’s attempts last month to overhaul the system of parliamentary standards and block the suspension of former minister Owen Paterson, who was found to have broken lobbying rules.

Backbencher Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, is also under investigation, it was announced on Wednesday, after he referred himself to the commissioner over a failure to declare £28,218.57 in outside earnings from his roles as a member of the Scottish parliament and a football referee.

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