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Drakeford: Dim view if parties took place in Wales.

Byline: PA REPORTERS echo.newsdesk@walesonline.co.uk

FIRST Minister Mark Drakeford has said he would take a "very dim view" if he discovered parties had been held in Welsh Government buildings during the pandemic.

Following his government's weekly coronavirus update yesterday, he was asked by journalists about parties which took place at Downing Street during lockdown.

Mr Drakeford said of the potential for something similar to have happened within Welsh Government buildings: "I'm not aware of any parties or anything of that sort. If there had been such an event, then I would take a very dim view of it.

"Time after time, I've come here to say that I believe that people who make the rules have a special obligation to make sure that they themselves are following the rules.

"That's how we've tried to conduct ourselves in the Welsh Government."

Asked about the inquiry into the gatherings at Number 10 being conducted by civil servant Sue Gray, he added: "I know Sue Gray, I've been an admirer of her abilities when she worked in the Northern Ireland Office and we would have contact with her as devolved governments.

"My own view has been, from the very beginning, that the report should have been given to someone entirely independent of the UK Government. It should've been judge-led, or someone in that independent position.

"I think Sue Gray has been put in a very challenging and pressurised position, and it would've been better if some other mechanism, more clear-cut, would've been put in place."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged people to wait until the findings of the investigation into the gatherings are published, however no timeline has been released for the inquiry.

The First Minister was speaking as Downing Street apologised to Buckingham Palace after it emerged parties were held in Number 10 the day before the Duke of Edinburgh's funeral last year.

Two gatherings reportedly took place, with the Prime Minister's former director of communications James Slack apologising for the "anger and hurt" one of the events - a leaving do held for him - had caused.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister confirmed No 10 has said sorry to the Palace.

The spokesman said: "It is deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning and No 10 has apologised to the Palace.

"You heard from the PM this week, he's recognised No 10 should be held to the highest standards, and take responsibility for things we did not get right."

The day after the events on April 16 last year, the Queen attended her husband Philip's funeral wearing a face mask and socially distanced from her family at Windsor Castle, in line with Covid restrictions.

The Prime Minister's spokesman said Mr Johnson was at his country residence Chequers on April 16 and had not been invited to the events.

Asked why No 10 had apologised rather than Mr Johnson himself, his spokesman said: "Well, again, the Prime Minister said earlier misjudgments have been made and it's right people apologise, as the PM did earlier this week."

It is understood the apology had been delivered via a telephone call through official channels.

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson should also be offering the Queen his resignation.

He said: "The Conservatives have let Britain down. An apology isn't the only thing the Prime Minister should be offering the palace today. Boris Johnson should do the decent thing and resign."

Cabinet minister Michael Gove denied the Prime Minister should tender his resignation.

The Levelling Up Secretary told ITV News the public "deserve the truth" and said changes in government were likely to be needed following the publication of Ms Gray's report, but rejected a suggestion

Mr Johnson should quit as part of the shake-up.

It comes after Mr Slack, who until last year was Mr Johnson's director of communications, apologised yesterday morning for the "anger and hurt" his leaving party had caused.

Mr Slack, who is now deputy editorin-chief of The Sun newspaper - which is understood to have been told about the leaving do on Thursday following a media inquiry - said he took "full responsibility" and was "deeply sorry".

Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale said the gatherings were "wholly unacceptable" and confirmed he had submitted a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson to the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs.

The Telegraph reported that as many as 30 letters have been submitted so far, with a total of 54 needed to trigger a vote.

However, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said people should "move on" following Mr Johnson's apology over a previous bash on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the former director general of the UK Government's Covid Taskforce has apologised over a gathering in the Cabinet Office for her leaving drinks during coronavirus restrictions days before Christmas in 2020.

Kate Josephs, who is chief executive of Sheffield City Council, said she was co-operating with Ms Gray's probe.

It brings the total number of parties or gatherings alleged to have happened across Whitehall during restrictions to 15.

The Metropolitan Police said there is no change to its position on investigating Downing Street parties amid fresh allegations of more gatherings taking place.

Scotland Yard indicated any police investigation would depend on evidence unearthed in the Cabinet Office inquiry carried out by Mrs Gray, adding: "If the inquiry identifies evidence of behaviour that is potentially a criminal offence it will be passed to the Met for further consideration."

Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru's Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts MP has tabled a parliamentary motion calling for a law to hold politicians to account for lying.

The Early Day Motion, which has so far gained the support of MPs from the Labour Party, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, the SDLP, Alliance, as well as Ms Saville Roberts' Plaid Cymru colleagues, condemns the organisation of parties at Downing Street during lockdown and condemns the Tory government for a "lack of transparency" and a "reluctance to disclose attendance".

Plaid Cymru, working with the thinktank Compassion in Politics, has proposed a new law be introduced that would effectively make it a criminal offence for politicians to deliberately lie to the public.

Ms Saville Roberts said "when the lies are so blatant, the statements so hypocritical, and the pain and loss of Covid lockdowns still so visceral, the public are right to demand Boris Johnson be held to account."

The MP added: "Enough is enough. Boris Johnson's lies have gone too far and Westminster is incapable of holding him to account.

"We urgently need a specific criminal offence to stop liars from corrupting our politics.

"I urge MPs from across the House to join our calls for a debate on a law to stop the lies as soon as possible."

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First Minister Mark Drakeford spoke out as Downing Street apologised to Buckingham Palace for parties held on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh's funeral last year JACK HILL/THE TIMES
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Author:PA REPORTERS echo.newsdesk@walesonline.co.uk
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 15, 2022
Words:1153
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