UK Prime Minister
Boris Johnson’s first choice to investigate allegations that government
officials held Christmas parties last year when COVID-19 rules barred such
gatherings has stepped aside after he, too, was caught up in the “partygate”

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Simon Case, the
head of the civil service, resigned from leading the investigation after the
Guido Fawkes website reported Friday that Case’s department held two parties in
December 2020. Johnson tapped Sue Gray, a former senior government ethics
adviser, to take over the inquiry.

The moves came
after Johnson’s Conservative Party suffered a stunning defeat in a
parliamentary by-election that was attributed in part to “partygate,” which
has dominated British news headlines for two weeks. The idea that politicians
and civil servants in London were partying when lockdown rules separated
citizens from loved ones angered the public.

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Angela Rayner,
deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, said Gray now has the task of
restoring public trust. One point in Gray’s favour may be that she was based in
Belfast a year ago as the senior civil servant in the Northern Ireland
Department of Finance.

“At the moment,
people are saying, ‘Which department didn’t have a party?‘” Rayner said. “It’s
incredibly disappointing because we all know what was happening when these
parties were going on: people couldn’t see their loved ones who were dying and
were making incredible sacrifices.’’

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The case was brought
in to investigate the scandal after a video surfaced of a mock press conference
where some of Johnson’s staff appeared to make light of a party that violated
the rules. Until that time, the prime minister had steadfastly denied that
government officials had broken any lockdown rules.

The Times of
London newspaper reported Saturday that one of the events held by Case’s
department, the Cabinet Office, was listed in digital calendars as “Christmas
party!” and was organized by a member of Case’s team.

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The Cabinet
Office said Friday that the event was a virtual quiz in which a small number of
people who had been working together in the same office took part from their

“The Cabinet
Secretary played no part in the event but walked through the team’s office on
the way to his own office,’’ the office said in a statement. “No outside guests
or other staff were invited or present. This lasted for an hour and drinks and
snacks were bought by those attending. He also spoke briefly to staff in the
office before leaving.”