Conservative MPs from Kettering and Northampton clash in Commons as row over Christmas parties at No10 rumbles on

Paymaster General Michael Ellis announces terms of investigation, but Phillip Hollobone tells him 'my constituents are very angry indeed'

Thursday, 9th December 2021, 3:11 pm

Two county MPs clashed in the Commons today as the row rumbled on over how much Boris Johnson knew about alleged Downing Street Christmas parties during lockdown.

Northampton North MP, Michael Ellis, made the formal announcement of an investigation in his role as Paymaster General.

But he confirmed on Thursday (December 9) that only three out of five events alleged to have taken place would be looked into.

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Philip Hollobone and Michael Ellis clashed in the Commons as the row over Christmas parties at No10 rumbled on.

Kettering's Philip Hollobone accused his fellow Tory of dodging a question from Labour and told him: "My constituents in Kettering are very angry indeed at reports of Christmas parties in Downing Street during what was a very large second wave of Covid.

"The behaviour was totally inappropriate and possibly criminal.

"Serving the public, whether as a Member of Parliament or as a civil servant, is a privilege and that the public should be treated with respect at all times — including with behaviour inside Downing Street."

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Fleur Anderson had asked Mr Ellis that if the Cabinet Secretary or any members of the investigatory team were at any of the alleged parties, would he ensure they take no part in the investigation.

Mr Hollobone said: "I do not think my right honorable friend answered that question."

Mr Ellis countered; "The Cabinet Secretary has denied any attendance at any gathering that is the subject of this matter."

Mr Ellis, who was promoted to Paymaster General in Boris Johnson's latest cabinet reshuffle in September, confirmed the investigation led by top civil servant Simon Case would look into parties inside No10 on November 27 and December 18, and also at the education department on December 10.

But he added it will not look into reports of social gatherings in Downing Street on November 13 or a party at Conservative Party HQ on December 14, over which four members of staff have been disciplined.

Mr Ellis added: "As with all internal investigations if, during the course of the work any evidence emerges of behaviour that is potentially a criminal offence, the matter will be referred to the police and the Cabinet Office's work may be paused.

"All ministers, special advisers and civil servants will be expected to cooperate with this investigation."

The Prime Minister announced the inquiry on Wednesday after a video from last year emerged of government staff joking about a party on December 18 — a day on which more than 400 Covid deaths were reported.

No10 spokeswoman Allegra Stratton later resigned over the video, leaked to ITV News.

The row has led to questions being raised over Mr Johnson's leadership by some senior Tories.

Wellingborough MP, Peter Bone, insists there is a lot of support for the PM — although he predicts a 'major rebellion' in Tuesday's vote on reintroducing some Covid restrictions.

He told the BBC Newsnight programme: "I absolutely believe he was telling the truth.

"Someone, probably quite senior, has told him they didn't happen. And that's what he's told Parliament."

New rules announced last night, some of which start on Friday (December 10), include masks in most public places, Covid passes or proof of negative tests for some venues and work from home guidance.

Mr Bone added: "I think there's a lot of support for Boris, although a lot unhappiness about some of the measures announced today.

"Vaccine passports, for example, are of no benefit whatsoever and will affect our civil liberties.

"I think there will be a major rebellion on Tuesday when they come to the House."