Claims of Downing Street bring your own' booze lockdown party are a 'human resources matter,' says Northampton MP
Michael Ellis faces opposition grilling over gatherings in Downing Street garden
Northampton MP Michael Ellis says accusations of Downing Street parties during lockdown is a 'human resources matter.'
Paymaster General Mr Ellis was grilled for more than an hour in the Commons countering an Urgent Question from Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner on Tuesday (January 11).
Metropolitan Police says it is in contact with officials over a leaked email showing one of Prime Minster Boris Johnson's senior aides invited 100 staff to a 'bring your own booze' party in the No10 garden in May 2020, during the height of a national Covid-19 lockdown.
The opposition had demanded Prime Minister Boris Johnson come to the Commons to answer questions himself.
But Mr Ellis repeatedly told jeering MPs he could not prejudge an independent inquiry into previous allegations of gatherings announced in December and the latest claims would also now be looked into.
He added: "It would not be appropriate for to comment on an ongoing investigation.
"There is a long-standing practice that any human resources matters concerning personnel does need to remain confidential.
"Both the Prime Minister and I came before the house in December to set out details of an investigation led by the Cabinet Office into allegations of gatherings in December 2020.
"As I did then, I apologise unreservedly for the upset these allegations have caused."
Labour wants to know if Mr Johnson attended the Downing Street bash on May 20 and whether he knew about it beforehand and allowed it to go ahead.
Ms Rayner said: "The Prime Minister's absence today despite having no official engagements speaks volumes."
She added: "The public have already drawn their own conclusions. He can run but he can't hide."
Today's Commons clash came a few days after Mr Ellis accompanied Mr Johnson on a visit to Northampton on Thursday (January 6), thanking local NHS staff for their 'incredible hard work' during the pandemic.
Martin Reynolds, the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary, sent an email to more than 100 Downing Street employees inviting them to 'make the most of the lovely weather' in the garden.
England was under tough coronavirus restrictions which banned groups from meeting socially outdoors at the time the message was sent.
Responding to a question from another Labour MP Ben Bradshaw about whether Mr Johnson will resign if investigations find he broke the law, Mr Ellis said: "The Prime Minister is going nowhere. He retains the confidence of the people of this country and he did so two years ago with the biggest majority in decade."
Previous allegations of Whitehall gatherings are already being investigated by senior civil servant Sue Gray.
Mr Ellis was promoted to Paymaster General — described as 'a minister without portfolio available for any duties which the government of the day may designate' — last September
He won Northampton North for the Conservatives in 2010 and turned it into a 5,507 majority at the 2019 General Election. He was promoted to the Cabinet last September after being Solicitor General.