Police are reviewing whether a Christmas quiz at No 10 may have breached coronavirus restrictions after a picture emerged showing Boris Johnson and colleagues near an open bottle of sparkling wine.
Scotland Yard said on Wednesday that officers were reconsidering their previous assessment that the event on December 15 2020 did not meet the threshold for criminal investigation after the new evidence emerged.
The Mirror published a photo showing the Prime Minister and three members of staff – one wearing tinsel and another in a Santa hat – near what appears to be an uncorked bottle of prosecco and an open bag of crisps.
Downing Street insists the event was a “virtual quiz” and police had decided not to investigate it alongside 12 other events after being passed evidence from the Sue Gray inquiry into alleged lockdown breaches.
But the Metropolitan Police said in a statement on Wednesday: “The MPS previously assessed this event and determined that on the basis of the evidence available at that time, it did not meet the threshold for criminal investigation.
“That assessment is now being reviewed.”
The development suggests the latest image to surface was not among more than 300 passed to officers by the Whitehall investigation, and adds to the pressure on Mr Johnson after major Tory donor John Armitage suggested his leadership is past the point of no return.
Battling to stay in power in the face of Conservative unrest over partygate, Mr Johnson signalled to the Commons that laws requiring people in England with Covid-19 to self-isolate will be lifted within weeks.
But the Mirror publishing its latest photo during Prime Minister’s Questions prompted a challenge from shadow minister Fabian Hamilton.
The Labour MP said the image appears to show “one of the Christmas parties he told us never happened”, adding: “Will the Prime Minister be referring this party to the police as it is not one of the ones currently being investigated?”
Mr Johnson responded: “In what he has just said, I’m afraid he is completely in error.”
Challenged again during PMQs, Mr Johnson added: “That event already has been submitted for investigation.”
Tory MP Neil Hudson called for all the evidence to be published to stem the “drip, drip, drip” of alleged Covid breaches and “upsetting images”, in a sign the revelation was further damaging Conservatives’ view of Mr Johnson.
“I’m incredibly disappointed and upset. Yet again I have to say that categorically I will not defend the indefensible,” the Penrith and The Border MP told GB News.
“I’m very clear that if rules have been broken, and indeed if the law has been broken, it doesn’t matter how serious you are, there has to be serious consequences.”
London was under Tier 2 restrictions at the time, which prohibited social mixing between different households indoors.
Official guidance said: “Although there are exemptions for work purposes, you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier.”
Ms Gray’s update on her inquiry revealed that police were investigating 12 events in Downing Street and wider government, but the “online Christmas quiz” was not considered to have “reached the threshold for criminal investigation”.
Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s hostile former chief adviser, tweeted “there’s waaaaay better pics than that floating around”, including of inside Mr Johnson’s official Downing Street flat.
A separate image of the same quiz emerged in December but did not show any alcohol.
Adam Wagner, a human rights lawyer who has been examining Covid laws, said it “seems obvious” from the new photo that Mr Johnson is “participating in a social gathering”.
The Prime Minister’s press secretary insisted the event was a “virtual quiz” but was unable to say whether the photograph had been submitted to the Gray inquiry.
“I’m not going to get into precise evidence but she obviously had access to all the evidence she needed,” the press secretary said.
In the Commons, Mr Johnson gave his firmest commitment to date to “immediately publish in full whatever” he is given by Ms Gray after all inquiries are concluded.
It came after Mr Armitage, who has given more than £3 million to the Conservative Party, said leaders should quit if they lose their “moral authority” and called “the lack of honour inherent in modern politics incredibly distressing”.
Asked by the BBC if he thinks Mr Johnson’s leadership is past the point of no return, the financier said: “Personally, yes.”
Mr Armitage, co-founder of hedge fund Egerton Capital, suggested Mr Johnson’s attempts to change his administration are not enough to win back support.
“What about a sense of personal responsibility? You know, ‘I’m going to change my chief of staff and it will all be fine’. Oh, really?” he said.
The BBC reported that Mr Armitage has told the Conservative Party he will not be giving any more money as things stand, but he plans to remain a member.
He has donated more than £500,000 to the Tories since Mr Johnson became Prime Minister, but he has also given money to Labour, including £12,500 in March.