The archbishop of Canterbury has said that people will have felt “sorrow and sadness” seeing the photograph of Downing Street staff drinking together last May because it will have reminded them of what they sacrificed.
In an interview with ITV, Justin Welby hinted at his disapproval over the gathering, saying that leadership involved setting an example.
Downing Street insists that the people featured in the photograph drinking in the No 10 garden in May last year – the prime minister, his wife, Carrie, and officials – were discussing work issues and that they were complying with the lockdown rules in force at the time.
Egter, critics argue that the picture suggests a lockdown-busting social gathering, not a work meeting, and the gathering could now be included as part of the inquiry into other No 10 events last year that allegedly broke Covid regulations.
Asked what he felt when he saw the picture, Welby told ITV: “I thought about the many people who’ll look at that and remember what they were doing on that day – and the sorrow and sadness they felt on that day because of not being able to see someone, or a bereavement, or the last time they saw someone they loved.”
Welby said that he was “not quick to judge people” and that he wanted to wait for the outcome of the investigation.
Asked if he accepted that lack of moral authority could cost lives at a time when people needed to follow public health messages, he agreed. “There needs to be truth and integrity and the cost of leadership is that you set an example," hy het gesê. “You lead from the front, which means you obey the rules.”
Welby spoke out as it was confirmed that a police watchdog is considering a complaint that officers on duty at No 10 allowed a lockdown-busting party to go ahead in December last year.
Jenny Jones, a Green party peer, asked the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) to investigate following reports that a gathering took place on 18 December last year that involved food, party games and drinking late into the night.
The event is already being investigated on behalf of the prime minister by Sue Gray, a senior civil servant, as part of her wider inquiry into Downing Street events that might have broken lockdown regulations.
In her letter to the IOPC, sent earlier this month, Lady Jones said that officers are on duty at Downing Street protecting the building and that part of their job involves controlling access.
“If there was an unlawful gathering taking place at No 10 Downing Street, then the police must have known, and were highly likely to have played an active part in organising or facilitating the illegal gathering," sy het geskryf.
Complaints first have to be considered by the relevant force, and the IOPC initially referred it to the Metropolitaanse polisie. The Met referred it back, and on Tuesday Jones posted a message on Twitter saying it was now being considered.
Egter, IOPC sources said the complaint was only being assessed to decide if a full investigation is merited. The IOPC normally only triggers a full investigation in response to a complaint from someone personally adversely affected by police misconduct.
The Met has refused to investigate allegations of partying at No 10 last winter, saying that normally it does not investigate breaches of lockdown rules that took place in the past, but that if “significant evidence” becomes available it will review this decision.