Case dismissed: Downing Street in disarray as head of parties inquiry quits
Cabinet secretary Simon Case will no longer lead the investigation into alleged Downing Street parties last Christmas, after it emerged his own office held one last year.
The developments leave Downing Street embroiled in fresh controversy, with the Prime Minister battling to keep control of his party after a crushing by-election defeat in North Shropshire and a mass rebellion over a raft of new Covid-19 restrictions pushed through on Labour votes.
The UK’s top civil servant had been hand-picked by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to look into claims Covid rules were broken over the Christmas period.
He was expected to report his findings before Christmas, and put to bed escalating rumours of illegal parties across Downing Street while everyone else suffered pandemic restrictions that made parties against the law.
However, as first reported by Westminster scoopers Guido Fawkes, Case held a quiz in his own office on December 17.
According to later reports from BBC, The Times and Politico, the event was called ‘Christmas Party’ in the work diary with 15 invites sent out.
The party involved six people in the office – who were working that day alongside six people socialising virtually.
Case did not take part, but he did walk through the office and thank his members of staff.
Following the reports, Case stepped down from leading the probe.
A spokesperson for No 10 said: “To ensure the ongoing investigation retains public confidence the cabinet secretary has recused himself for the remainder of the process”.
Sue Gray is now set to complete the report instead.
She is the second permanent secretary at the department for levelling up, housing and communities, and is also on the panel deciding on who will be next chair of the media regulator Ofcom.
The controversy over parties erupted earlier this month from a leaked video showing former Downing Street press secretary Allegra Stratton joking about an illegal ‘cheese and wine’ night – with the furore leading to her eventual resignation.
Since then, there have have been multiple reports of illegal parties and other gatherings over last year’s festive period: including a Christmas quiz involving former London mayoral cabinet Shaun Bailey, and a Downing Street quiz attended by the Prime Minister.
The latest developments are highly embarrassing for the Government, which alongside allegations of Christmas rule-breaking, is still reeling from the fallout of Owen Paterson’s resignation after he was found guilty of breaking lobbying rules as an MP.
It now faces an uphill task to convince voters it is prepared to follow the same rules it imposes on the public.
This could become an increasing issue for Downing Street with SAGE pushing for more restrictions as cases of the Omicron variant rapidly spread across the country.