Scotland Yard is facing calls to extend its investigation into alleged breaches of lockdown rules in No 10 after a photo was published showing Boris Johnson near an open bottle of sparkling wine during a Christmas quiz .
The Mirror published a picture on Wednesday showing the Prime Minister and three staff – one wearing tinsel and the other in a Santa hat – near what appears to be an uncorked bottle of prosecco and an open bag of crisps .
The December 15, 2020 event, which Downing Street said was a ‘virtual quiz’, is not among those being investigated by the Metropolitan Police after officers received the evidence from the Sue Gray investigation.
The image added to pressure on the Prime Minister after top Tory donor John Armitage suggested his leadership had passed the point of no return.
Struggling to stay in power amid Tory unrest over partygate, Mr Johnson signaled in the Commons that laws requiring people in England with Covid-19 to self-isolate will be lifted within weeks.
But the Mirror publishing his latest picture during Prime Minister’s Questions prompted a challenge from shadow minister Fabian Hamilton.
The Labor MP said the image appears to show ‘one of the Christmas parties which he told us never happened’, adding: ‘Will the Prime Minister return this party to the police because it is not one of the ones currently under investigation?”
Mr Johnson replied: “In what he has just said, I fear he is completely wrong.”
Asked again at PMQs, Mr Johnson added: ‘This event has already been submitted for investigation.
London was then subject to Tier 2 restrictions, which prohibited social mixing between different households indoors.
The official guidelines said: “While there are exemptions for work purposes, you should not host a Christmas lunch or party at work, where it is a primarily social activity and is not not otherwise allowed by the rules of your level.”
Ms Gray’s update on her investigation revealed that police were investigating 12 events in Downing Street and across the government, but the ‘online Christmas quiz’ was not considered to have ‘reached the threshold’ of a criminal investigation”.
Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s hostile former chief adviser, tweeted: ‘There are waaaaay better pictures than those floating around including in the flat.
A separate image of the same quiz appeared in December but showed no alcohol.
Adam Wagner, a human rights lawyer who has reviewed Covid laws, said: ‘I think there is no longer any justification for the police not to investigate this event.
“I imagine the reason I decided not to investigate this gathering is that the (previous) picture was ambiguous – the Prime Minister may have called but did not himself attend a illegal assembly. But now it seems obvious from the photo that he himself is at a social gathering.
The Prime Minister’s press secretary insisted the event was a “virtual quiz”, but was unable to say whether the photograph had been submitted to the Gray Inquiry as evidence.
“I’m not going to go into specific evidence, but she obviously had access to all the evidence she needed,” the publicist said.
With police having received more than 300 photographs from Ms Gray’s investigation, Mr Johnson made his strongest pledge yet to ‘immediately release in full all that is given to him’ by Ms Gray once every investigations completed.
Earlier today Mr Armitage, who has given more than £3m to the Conservative Party, said leaders should resign if they lost their ‘moral authority’ as he said ‘lack of honor inherent in modern politics is incredibly painful”.
Asked by the BBC if he thinks Mr Johnson’s leadership has passed the point of no return, the financier replied: “Personally, yes.”
Mr Armitage, co-founder of hedge fund Egerton Capital, suggested Mr Johnson’s attempts to change his administration are not enough to win back support.
“What about the sense of personal responsibility? You know “I’m going to change chief of staff and everything will be fine”. Oh really?” he said.
The BBC reported that Mr Armitage had told the Conservative Party that he would not give it any more money as things stood, but planned to remain a member.
He has donated more than £500,000 to the Tories since Mr Johnson became Prime Minister, but he has also donated money to Labour, including £12,500 in March.
Scotland Yard did not respond to questions about the latest photo to emerge.