The No 10 Christmas party was planned for three weeks with invitations sent to officials and advisers on WhatsApp while the UK was in full lockdown, The Times has been told.
Invitations to last year’s event were circulated at the end of November, asking people to attend the press office’s “secret Santa” gathering with an exchange of gifts. The invitation said it would be held on December 18 and that there would be food and wine.
The messages are likely to form part of an inquiry by Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, who is seeking to establish whether the event was a party and therefore represented a breach of lockdown rules. Case has said he is prepared to hand over any evidence to the police.
Epidemiologist Prof Sunetra Gupta welcomes news that an independent inquiry will examine the government’s handling of the pandemic. “There was a religious belief that lockdowns and facemasks work. Let’s look at the costs of these strategies.”
The case for the prosecution of Johnson is likely to be heard in a parliamentary inquiry (with Dominic Cummings as the star witness) which should bring scrutiny of the Imperial College cliff-edge hypothesis. This suggests that Covid cases surged every day until lockdown, so Prime Ministerial dither cost thousands of lives. Only when he eventually agreed to lock down on March 23, says Imperial, did cases collapse. This theory is one of the most influential ever deployed in government – and now looks as if it could be bunkum.
We don’t have to guess anymore, given how much Covid data exists. The ONS, Zoe/King’s College, the React-2 study run by a different team at Imperial: none support Neil Ferguson’s cliff-edge theory. All show Covid cases falling before lockdowns. So what forced the virus into retreat, if not stay-at-home orders? We can look at another form of contagion: news, spread digitally. People saw how things were getting dangerous and stayed home of their own accord. This is more than theory. Mobile phone data offers rich detail of this worldwide trend.