Conservative Christmas party was unacceptable, says Grant Shapps
A party held at Conservative headquarters in London last year in breach of Covid rules was "unacceptable", a minister has said.
Grant Shapps said the Tories had disciplined four staff members and warned further action could be taken.
The party was organised by the team of Shaun Bailey, who at the time was running to be London mayor.
Mr Bailey resigned as a committee chair in the London Assembly after the Mirror published a photo of the party.
Responding to the picture, a spokesperson for Mr Bailey's campaign said: "On the evening of 14 December 2020, at the end of the working day, the campaign hosted a post-work event to thank campaign staff for their efforts over the course of the year.
"This was a serious error of judgement and we fully accept that a gathering like this at that time was wrong and we apologise unreservedly".
The event, described as a "raucous" party, was held in the basement of the Conservative's Westminster head office on 14 December 2020 when coronavirus restrictions banned socialising indoors.
A picture of the party shows 24 people gathered together in a small room, with catered food visible on the side.
Labour's shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper asked why the Conservatives allowed Mr Bailey to carry on as their mayoral candidate even though they were aware of the breach of rules.
"To be in charge of holding the Met to account - including on enforcing Covid rules. CCHQ thought that was OK."
Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Daisy Cooper said: "The image of Bailey and his mates living it up at Conservative HQ while the British public were locked down and the NHS was saving lives, is another punch to the stomach to everyone who followed the rules."
The SNP's Pete Wishart said: "It seems lockdown was just one big party for the Tories."
Asked about the event, minister Mr Shapps told the BBC "that scene is absolutely unacceptable" and added that it "was not authorised by the Conservative Party".
Mr Bailey had been the Conservative candidate in the race to become London mayor but he lost out to Labour's Sadiq Khan, who secured 55% of the vote compared to Mr Bailey's 44%.
Following the release of the photograph, a spokesperson for the Greater London Authority Conservatives said Mr Bailey would step down as chair of the police and crime committee, to prevent the "unauthorised social gathering" distracting from the committee's work of holding the Mayor of London to account.
Mr Bailey's resignation comes as the prime minister is facing questions about other parties that took place in Downing Street and other government departments.
Last week, Boris Johnson asked senior civil servant Simon Case to lead an inquiry into gatherings that took place, after a video obtained by ITV showed No 10 staff joking about a party.
Here is a timeline of reported events:
13 November 2020: Sources have told the BBC there were impromptu drinks to mark the exit of the former director of communications at No 10, Lee Cain - but it was staff having drinks at their desks and was over by 20:30.
13 November 2020: Also the date Dominic Cummings left as chief adviser to the PM. Sources told the BBC that several Downing Street staff members attended a gathering with Carrie Johnson in the flat where the prime minister and his wife live above No 11. A source said music was blaring and could be heard elsewhere in the building. But others said to be at the party denied it took place, as did a spokeswoman for Mrs Johnson.
27 November 2020: Another No 10 aide, Cleo Watson, left Downing Street marked by an event. Again, sources said it was not formally organised, but people were having drinks and Mr Johnson made a speech. Mr Cummings has tweeted that no party took place on this date.
10 December 2020: The Department for Education has confirmed it had a gathering in the office to thank staff for their work during the pandemic. Drinks and snacks were brought by those who attended and no outside guests or support staff were invited.
14 December 2020: The Conservatives have confirmed reports that there was an "unauthorised social gathering" in the basement of their party's building, held by the team of the London mayoral candidate at the time, Shaun Bailey. It was described as "raucous". Four Tory staff members have been disciplined.
15 December 2020: Boris Johnson took part in a Christmas quiz sitting between two colleagues in No 10 - while indoor household mixing was banned in London. The Sunday Mirror published a picture of Mr Johnson at the event. Downing Street said the PM "briefly took part virtually" to thank staff for their work during the pandemic.
18 December 2020: The now infamous Downing Street Christmas party took place on this date, as first reported by the Mirror. A source told the BBC there was food, drinks and games at the gathering that went on past midnight.