British lawmakers have called on Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, to resign after footage emerged of him joking about a Downing Street Christmas party and Covid-19 regulations.
In a video speaking at an Institute of Economic Affairs event, the Commons Leader was caught saying that “this party is not going to be investigated by the police in a year's time”, raising laughs from No. 10 officials attending it.
Mocking the Covid-19 rules, Rees-Mogg told the audience: “I see we’re all here obeying regulations, aren’t we?”
“You are all very carefully socially distanced... we have moved, I am pleased to tell you, from the metric back to the Imperial system: I notice you are all at least two inches away from each other which is, as I understand it, what the regulations require,” he continued.
In the video, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's then spokesperson Allegra Stratton is also heard joking that the party “was not socially distanced.”
“This is recorded … This fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced,” Stratton laughingly says.
The footage has prompted anger from members of parliament, National Health Service (NHS) bosses and those who lost loved ones during the pandemic.
“There are simply no words to describe how upsetting and shameful it is then to hear Boris Johnson’s team laughing about breaking the rules they had made, whilst others followed them and could only say goodbye to their loved ones through a screen. It’s the behavior of people who think they’re above us,” Becky Kummer, a spokesperson for Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said.
Johnson is being accused of lying but Downing Street has rejected the allegations, insisting that “there was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times.”
Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said, “To lie and to laugh about those lies is shameful. The prime minister now needs to come clean and apologize.”
Following the scandal, Stratton apologized and resigned from her post, but Rees-Mog is still in his position defending his remarks.
“What I was saying was how nice it was to be free of restrictions so that we can have parties this year,” he said.
Labour’s shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire criticized Rees-Mog’s behavior and compared it to Stratton's. “She laughed, he laughed. She’s apologized and resigned. What’s he going to do?”
“She resigned. Surely the Leader of the House should resign too, or isn’t it another case of ministers in this Government believing it’s one rule for them and another rule for everyone else?” Labour MP Richard Burgon also said.
The development comes after Conservative lawmakers, backed by Johnson, narrowly voted to halt a proposed 30-day suspension from parliament of MP Owen Paterson, who had been found guilty of repeatedly lobbying for two firms, which paid him nearly three times his annual salary.
Instead, they pushed through a proposal to delay the suspension and set up a new committee to review his case and the wider system of investigating lawmakers.