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UK: Top official quits Christmas party investigation

December 17, 2021

Simon Case was leading the probe into alleged Christmas parties held by Prime Minister Boris Johnson's staff in breach of COVID restrictions. Case has quit after reports of parties in his own office.

UK Cabinet Secretary Simon Case
UK Cabinet Secretary Simon CaseImage: Aaron Chown/empics/picture alliance

UK Cabinet Secretary Simon Case has stepped down from leading an investigation into alleged parties in government offices in breach of COVID-19 lockdowns.

Case's move followed reports that emerged on Friday claiming that parties were held in his own office on two occasions last December. 

As a result of Case stepping down, the investigation will be led by civil servant Sue Gray.

"To ensure the ongoing investigation retains public confidence the Cabinet Secretary has recused himself for the remainder of the process," a spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson's office said.

The BBC reported that invitations were sent out for an event — in Case's office — titled "Christmas Party!"

According to a government spokesperson quoted by the BBC, Case's office staff had taken part in a virtual quiz, with a small number joining from their desks. The spokesperson added that Case himself played no role in the event, but had walked through the team's office on the way to his own office.

Why was Case called to investigate?

Earlier this month, a 2020 video emerged showing UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's staff joking about a party at his office during Christmas lockdown.

Johnson said he had been assured COVID rules were not broken and that there had been no party, and asked Case to investigate the issue.

Allegra Straton, a former press secretary who made many of the jokes in the video, resigned after the video emerged.

Later, UK newspaper Sunday Mirror published a photo from 2020 that showed Johnson hosting a Christmas quiz alongside two colleagues, while strict indoor COVID regulations were in place.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson
Johnson's Conservative party lost what had been considered a safe seatImage: Kirsty O'Connor/Pool/REUTERS

How popular is the Conservative Party?

On Thursday, Johnson's Conservative Party lost what had been considered a safe seat in a by-election in North Shropshire. This has been seen as a sign of voter dissatisfaction.

Almost 100 Conservative members of Parliament refused to back new coronavirus regulations imposed following the spread of the new omicron variant, leaving Johnson reliant on votes from the opposition Labour party.

sdi/fb (AFP, Reuters)