A “formal party” in Downing Street last December would have been contrary to Covid-19 guidance, the justice secretary Dominic Raab has admitted, saying it would have been “the wrong thing to do”.
But the lord chancellor told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show he had been assured by Boris Johnson that no rules had been broken over the reported gathering last year, despite reports from multiple sources across several newspapers.
“Let’s just be clear what we’re talking about here, something that took place a year ago, unsubstantiated anonymous claims being made,” he said. “It’s impossible to answer the charge on that basis, only that we are clear the rules were being followed. If there is a breach of the rules there is a breach of the rules. But I don’t know the full facts because I wasn’t there.”
Asked if, as a lawyer, he agreed it would have been a breach of the rules to have held a gathering, Raab said: “Of course, if there was a formal party held, of course that is something that is clearly contrary to the guidance. If anyone held a party that it is contrary to the rules, of course that is the wrong thing to do.
“If something unsubstantiated from anonymous sources actually materialised then of course it would be wrong.”
Raab earlier told Sky he would not be holding a Christmas party at the Ministry of Justice, even though it would be permitted under the current coronavirus rules, but said he would be having “appropriate drinks at a smaller scale” as he urged employers to show “common sense” when organising Christmas celebrations.
“The rules are very clear. People can go in and have Christmas parties – of course employers will want to think common sense about how they do that,” he told Sky News’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme.
“We won’t be having a Ministry of Justice-wide Christmas party this year. We will be having appropriate drinks at a smaller scale. The government wants people to be able to enjoy Christmas this year. People should feel free to go and enjoy those celebrations and every employer will think about the right way to do it and I’m the same as everybody else.”
Speaking earlier, Raab also defended new travel testing requirements. All international arrivals to the UK will be required to take a predeparture Covid-19 test to tackle the new Omicron variant, the health secretary has announced. Sajid Javid said the tightened requirements would come into force from 4am on Tuesday.
Travellers will need to submit evidence of a negative lateral flow or PCR test to enter, which must have been taken a maximum of 48 hours before the departure time. People currently only need to self-isolate until they test negative within two days of arrival.
“I know that is a burden for the travel industry but we have made huge, huge strides in this country,” Raab told Sky. “We have got to take the measures targeted forensically to stop the new variant seeding in this country to create a bigger problem. We have taken a balanced approach but we are always alert to extra risk that takes us back not forward.”
But Prof Mark Woolhouse, a government scientific adviser, told the BBC it was “too late” to make a “material difference” to a potential wave of Omicron cases. “I think that may be a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
“If Omicron is here in the UK, and it certainly is, if there’s community transmission in the UK, and it certainly looks that way, then it’s that community transmission that will drive a next wave.
“The cases that are being imported are important, we want to detect those and isolate any positive cases we find, as we would for any case anywhere. But I think it’s too late to make a material difference to the course of the Omicron wave if we’re going to have one.”