'Jingle and Mingle' Covid party invite emerges piling fresh shame on Tories as police ‘assess’ new evidence

19 June 2023, 15:41 | Updated: 19 June 2023, 15:44

A member of the public walks past the Covid memorial wall
A member of the public walks past the Covid memorial wall. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

The Met police have begun looking into new alleged breaches of Covid-19 rules by Conservative Party staffers and a Tory MP, it emerged today.

The development comes after a video emerged of Tory activists dancing at a Christmas party during Covid restrictions in 2020 - with invitations sent for them to attend the “Jingle and Mingle” event.

The latest footage of the now-infamous party at Conservative Party HQ shows officials - including two named on Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list) wearing Christmas jumpers, dancing and appearing to joke about pandemic restrictions in December 2020 when indoor socialising was banned.

The same day Matt Hancock announced London would be put into tier 3 restrictions.

The footage has been criticised as “sickening”, “indefensible”, and “shameful”.

Some of the people seen in the clip were being identified today.

They are Ben Mallett, now campaign manager for London mayoral candidate Moz Hossain; Shaun Bailey - at the time Conservative candidate for London Mayor, now a member of the London Assembly; Malin Bogue, a senior public affairs consultant who campaigns for lobbying firm Stonehaven; Jack Smith, an aide to Tory energy minster Graham Stuart; Property developer and Tory donor Nick Candy.

This evening, Rishi Sunak is expected to duck a potential vote on the investigation which found that his predecessor Boris Johnson lied to MPs when he gave them assurances over partygate.

A man walks solemnly past the National Covid Memorial Wall in Westminster, central London
A man walks solemnly past the National Covid Memorial Wall in Westminster, central London. Picture: Alamy

No 10 said the Prime Minister's schedule on Monday "doesn't include attending Parliament" and that he has commitments he "can't move".

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The Metropolitan Police confirmed they are reviewing new material in relation to a Christmas party held at Conservative Campaign Headquarters during the height of the pandemic.

Tory activists were invited to what was described as the "jingle and mingle" party, despite members of the public being banned from seeing each other under Covid regulations in place at the time.

With a vote potentially looming on the Privileges Committee report on Mr Johnson's conduct, the Prime Minister has been accused of "running scared" for refusing to say whether he will take part.

He has been urged to "show leadership" on the issue but has insisted he does not want to "influence" how MPs might vote.

The cross-party committee concluded that Mr Johnson - who quit as an MP and labelled the probe a "kangaroo court" after being told in advance of its findings - should have faced a 90-day suspension for misleading the House when he told the Commons that Covid rules were obeyed in No 10 despite parties taking place.

It also recommended banning the ex-premier from receiving a pass to access Parliament which is usually available to former MPs.

It is not clear whether there will ultimately be a vote on the conclusions of the report, which could go through on the nod unless there are objections from Mr Johnson's supporters.

The former prime minister was urging his allies not to oppose it, arguing that the sanctions have no practical effect, although critics argue that the level of support shown for him would have been very low anyway.

In a briefing with reporters, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said Mr Sunak has afternoon meetings on Monday, including hosting his Swedish counterpart, Ulf Kristersson, before attending a dinner in the evening.

The No 10 official, asked whether Mr Sunak plans to attend the Commons if there is a vote on the Privileges Committee's report, said: "It depends on the timings of the day.

"He has commitments that he can't move, but obviously it will depend on how the timings in Parliament play out."

Pressed again on whether Mr Sunak could make an appearance in the Commons, the spokesman said: "Currently you've got his schedule for today, which doesn't include attending Parliament."

Mr Sunak has claimed his reticence about publicising his view on the report's conclusions is because he "wouldn't want to influence anyone in advance" of the free vote.

But publicly backing the report and its sanctions could risk deepening the Tory civil war between Johnson loyalists and his own administration.

Conservative MPs will be given a free vote, but allies of Mr Johnson warned they could face battles with their local parties to remain as candidates at the next election if they back the motion.

The Prime Minister told ITV's Good Morning Britain the committee had carried out its work "thoroughly" and that he respected the Tory majority-panel.

He added: "It will be up to each and every individual MP to make a decision of what they want to do when the time comes. It's important the Government doesn't get involved in that because it is a matter for Parliament and members as individuals, not as members (of) Government."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told the programme the Prime Minister should participate if there is a Commons vote, saying: "He should show leadership - come along, get in the lobby, and show us where he stands on this."

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: "Refusing to back this motion would be an insult to bereaved families who grieved alone while Johnson lied and partied.

"The buck stops at the very top of Government - if Rishi Sunak really wanted to govern with integrity he shouldn't be running scared of this vote."

In a statement on Monday, the Metropolitan Police said they are assessing fresh evidence about potential Covid lockdown breaches.

It comes after the Sunday Mirror published a video appearing to show Tory staff dancing and joking about coronavirus restrictions during a so-called "jingle and mingle" Christmas party at Conservative HQ in central London.

The footage of the event, which happened in December 2020 when indoor socialising was banned and people across the country were separated from family and friends, poses a further setback to Mr Sunak's efforts to move on from his predecessor-but-one's legacy.

Scotland Yard confirmed that the video, which was "not previously provided to officers", is among the new evidence it is considering.

Both former London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey and Tory aide Ben Mallet - who were handed a peerage and an OBE respectively in Mr Johnson's resignation honours - attended the gathering.

The Met said investigators are also reviewing material referred by the Cabinet Office to the force and Thames Valley Police regarding potential breaches of the regulations between June 2020 and May 2021 at Downing Street and Chequers.

Thirdly, they are looking into a report from Thursday June 15 regarding media reporting of alleged breaches in Parliament.

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