Home Secretary Priti Patel blasted a Tory colleague today as he apologised for attending a Christmas Party days after claiming festive family gatherings risked a third wave of coronavirus.
She tore into former defence minister Tobias Ellwood after it was revealed he attended a dinner for 27 guests at a posh London club just before the capital entered Tier 3.
Mr Ellwood, a former Army officer who chairs the Commons Defence Committee, gave a speech for the event at the Cavalry and Guards Club in Piccadilly on Tuesday.
He insisted it was a ‘business meeting’ allowed under the Tier 2 restrictions that applied at the time.
But hosts the Iraq Britain Business Council described the occasion on its website as its ‘Christmas Party’.
Ms Patel suggested the Bournemouth East MP could face a fine . Asked by ITV News if his actions were an ‘egregious’ breach of the rules, Ms Patel said: ‘Well, it is. Of course it is exactly that.
‘Having dinner outside of the rules with a large number of people is a breach of the regulations.’
Asked if there should be a punishment, Ms Patel said: ‘There are fixed-penalty notices. I don’t know the details as to where this happened or the location, but I’m sure, as it is a breach, that will be followed up.’
Ms Patel tore into former defence minister Tobias Ellwood after it was revealed he attended a dinner for 27 guests at a posh London club just before the capital entered Tier 3.
Tobias Ellwood, chair of the Commons defence committee, has denied attending a Christmas party on Tuesday, insisting it was a ‘business meeting,’ that was ‘absolutely Covid-compliant’
In the Commons on Monday Mr Ellwood had argued that ‘letting down our guard’ by allowing families to meet over Christmas ‘could be very dangerous indeed’.
This morning he apologised for having ‘muddled’ government advice on Christmas, but insisted the event followed the rules in London at the time.
In a statement he said it was a ‘business reception/dinner’ where he ‘gleaned extremely useful intelligence’ about the issues on the ground in the Middle East.
‘The event took place at the respect Cavalry and Guards Club under strict Covid compliant conditions,’ he said.
‘For the duration of Tier 2 restrictions function rooms that usually seat over 100 have been converted to hold business events for less than 30.
‘I appreciate, given the current challenges, some will question the wisdom of my attendance.
‘I am sorry coverage of my well-intentioned attendance may have muddled the Government’s clear message as we head towards Christmas.
‘Whilst the event was fully Covid complaint – perceptions count.’
The former defence minister claimed on Monday relaxation of the rules for five days should be reviewed ‘so we don’t begin the New Year with a third wave’.
According to the IBBC’s website, the dinner was co-hosted by its president Baroness Nicholson, who is also Boris Johnson’s trade envoy for Iraq.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said MPs had a duty to be seen to be following the coronavirus rules following the revelation about Tobias Ellwood’s ‘business reception/dinner’.
He said: ‘I think it is incumbent on all of us as MPs to follow the rules and be seen to be following the rules because it is very important that we all carry the same message to the country that, whatever the rules are we must follow them.’
An online diary entry, which has since been removed, described Tuesday’s Iraq Britain Business Council gathering as a ‘Christmas party’
Mr Ellwood said 27 people were in attendance but insisted ‘they all followed the guidance’.
He denied that there were Christmas crackers, adding: ‘There was a proper formal address and then I was introduced to business people. It was a proper business function.’
Asked if turkey was served to the guests for the meal, Mr Ellwood said: ‘No I don’t think so.’
Mr Ellwood denied said there were no Christmas crackers at the event at The Cavalry and Guards Club in Piccadilly, saying it was a ‘proper business function’
The IBBC has removed its online description of the event as a ‘Christmas Party’.
The Cavalry and Guards Club said: ‘We do not comment on any private parties held here at the club.’
The Department for International Trade declined to comment on Baroness Nicholson’s attendance.
The Government guidance for Tier 2 areas states that ‘gatherings for work purposes are only allowed where they are reasonably necessary’. It adds: ‘Business events are permitted, but capacity should be restricted.’