I share the anger felt by people across the country at the video of Number 10 staff seeming to make light of lockdown measures. So many of us, like the great majority of people in Taunton Deane and right across the UK have made enormous personal sacrifices throughout the pandemic and it is deeply troubling to think that some of the people responsible for setting the rules may not have been following those rules. I have made my disappointment and dismay abundantly clear to colleagues through the usual channels.
The Prime Minister rightly apologised in the House of Commons recently for the offence caused and the impression it gives. Further, I am glad that it has been made clear that while he had been repeatedly assured that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken in Downing Street, the Prime Minister has directed the Cabinet Secretary to investigate this matter, establish all the facts, and report back as soon as possible. I have been assured that if it is found that Covid rules were broken, then there will be disciplinary action for those involved.
As MPs, we have a vital responsibility to set an example, and that goes for those working for the Government too. Some of you have asked me directly and I can absolutely confirm that I did not attend this alleged gathering on the 18th December. I have done all I can to observe the range of, and at times frustrating but necessary, restrictions since the onset of the pandemic.
I and my staff remain focused on working tirelessly for the people of Taunton Deane, in particular recently by helping many to receive their booster dose. In addition, in my role as Environment Minister I have recently steered the vital Environment Bill through Parliament to become an Act. The measures it enables will transform our lives - restoring nature, cleaning our water & air and introducing a wide range of measures to transition us to a sustainable future.
I can fully understand the upset and anger people feel over the alleged incident, with many missing the opportunity to say goodbye to loved ones, being separated from family and friends for many months as well as facing the impact the pandemic has had on many livelihoods. Taken together with the fact Omicron cases are rising very quickly as well as the move to Plan B just announced it is vital that this investigation proceeds swiftly and that any appropriate disciplinary action follows. I will be following developments closely.