Top UK civil servant quits lockdown party probe over own event

Cabinet secretary steps down from inquiry into Downing Street parties after claims he also broke rules.

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case walks to the Houses of Parliament in London, UK, April 26, 2021 [Toby Melville/ Reuters]

A top United Kingdom civil servant tasked with investigating allegations of lockdown-breaking parties held by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s staff has recused himself from the inquiry.

Simon Case, the British cabinet secretary, stepped down from his role on Friday following reports of a gathering held in his own office over the same period.

“To ensure the ongoing investigation retains public confidence the Cabinet Secretary has recused himself for the remainder of the process,” a spokesperson for Johnson’s office said.

“The work will be concluded by Sue Gray, second permanent secretary at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

“She will ascertain the facts and present her findings to the Prime Minister.”

Johnson had asked Case to investigate after a video emerged earlier this month showing the prime minister’s staff laughing and joking about a Downing Street party during a 2020 Christmas lockdown when such festivities were banned.

The leaked footage appeared to contradict denials by Johnson and his ministers that a party had taken place.

The alleged parties resulted in condemnation from political opponents and dismayed voters who were told by the government to sacrifice their own Christmas events last year.

Johnson’s Conservatives lost an election in a previous stronghold on Friday, stepping up pressure from his own legislators to reform his operation in Number 10.

The victorious centrist Liberal Democrat candidate in the North Shropshire seat, Helen Morgan, said voters had said loudly and clearly: “Boris Johnson, the party is over.”

Case stepped down after the Guido Fawkes website said two events were held in his private office last December.

The BBC said invitations were sent out for one of the events titled “Christmas Party!”

A government spokesperson quoted by the BBC said office staff had taken part in a virtual quiz, with a small number joining from their desks.

“The cabinet secretary played no part in the event, but walked through the team’s office on the way to his own office,” the spokesperson told the BBC.

“No outside guests or other staff were invited or present. This lasted for an hour and drinks and snacks were bought by those attending. He also spoke briefly to staff in the office before leaving.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies