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Boris Johnson’s press chief Jack Doyle spoke at No 10 party last year

Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street

The PM's press chief addressed staff and gave out awards at a Downing Street party last Christmas that is now under investigation, it is understood.

Jack Doyle, then deputy director of communications, gave a speech to 20-30 people at the gathering on 18 December.

A source has told the BBC there were food, drinks and games at the event.

Downing Street said: "There is an ongoing review, and we won't be commenting further while that is the case."

This event is one of three government staff gatherings from last year now being investigated by the UK's top civil servant, Simon Case, for possible breaches of Covid rules.

Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner said news of Mr Doyle's attendance had "exposed" Mr Case's inquiry as a "sham".

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  • What were the rules on Christmas parties?
  • Three government staff parties to be investigated
  • Education department chief admits December party

Meanwhile, Lord Geidt, the prime minister's standards adviser, is unhappy about the contents of an Electoral Commission report into the funding of refurbishments to the Downing Street flat but is not ready to resign over it, the BBC understands.

Labour says the report shows the prime minister lied to Lord Geidt when he investigated the PM's conduct earlier this year, something denied by Downing Street.

The Conservative Party was fined £17,800 by the commission on Thursday for "failing to accurately report a donation" that paid for some of the work.

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Who is Jack Doyle?

  • The former Daily Mail political reporter became the prime minister's press secretary in 2020
  • He was promoted to Downing Street director of communications in April this year
  • He is not the PM's official spokesman – but is in charge of how the government gets its message across to the media
  • It is the role held by Alastair Campbell, when Labour was in power
  • Mr Doyle earns between £140,000 and £144,999 a year
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The revelation of Mr Doyle's speech at the Downing Street gathering follows an arduous few days for the government, during which time it has been accused by Labour of not being honest over this and other events.

ITV News, which first reported that Mr Doyle had been present at the 18 December party, said he had also handed out award certificates to staff.

The event took place two days after London went into Tier 3 lockdown restrictions, meaning people were told not to mix indoors with anyone outside their household or support bubble.

No 10 has refused to explain how the party complied with Covid restrictions in force at the time, despite a deepening row and days of questioning by reporters.

On Wednesday, the prime minister told the Commons that he had been "repeatedly assured" that there had been no party and that no Covid rules had been broken on that date.

Government adviser Allegra Stratton who quit her post on Wednesday after an angry backlash over a video she appeared in from last December, in which she joked about a Christmas party.

In the video, obtained by ITV News, the PM's then-press secretary took part in a mock press conference four days after the 18 December event, where she laughed with other staff about how to describe it.

Before her resignation, Mr Johnson told MPs that he was "furious" about the clip and was launching an investigation into whether rules had been broken last Christmas.

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Analysis box by Laura Kuenssberg, political editor

Sources in Westminster are questioning whether it's possible for Jack Doyle to stay in his job. In part that's because one of the problems this week for No 10 has been their efforts to deny and explain what did or didn't happen.

Ministers, and the prime minister himself, have been stuck in the Kafka-esque position of saying that they are sure no rules were broken, but they also don't know what went on.

If they don't know what happened, how can they be sure that nothing went wrong?

And if multiple sources have said there was a gathering of several dozen people, and people who were not on the Downing Street payroll had been invited, how can that have been just a few work drinks at the desk in a Covid-secure office?

Read Laura's blog in full

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Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, who is carrying out the investigation into the 18 December gathering, is also looking into a No 10 staff event on 27 November last year, and a gathering at the Department of Education on 10 December.

The inquiry could be widened out if it considered there are credible allegations about other events.

After it emerged Mr Doyle had spoken at the 18 December event, Ms Rayner said: "The government's internal investigation has been exposed as the sham it is.

"The investigation has only just published its terms of reference, and we are already seeing more details from the media than the Cabinet Office about the parties."

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Mr Johnson is also facing a rebellion from Conservative MPs over his plans announced on Wednesday to introduce tighter Covid curbs in England to tackle the Omicron variant.

Dozens of Tories have hit out at his extra restrictions ahead of a vote next week, particularly the plans for mandatory Covid passes for nightclubs and large events.

Former cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell said the mood in the Conservative Party was "sulphurous", adding: "What we need now is a bit of grip from No 10."

Business minister Paul Scully told BBC Breakfast it had been a "difficult week for the government" and that it had not "been able to get across" policies it had announced to deal with Covid and the economy.

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