A Conservative MP has apologised after attending a “Christmas party” for 27 guests, but insisted the event was “fully COVID compliant”.
It has emerged that Tobias Ellwood gave a speech at the Cavalry and Guards Club in Piccadilly hours before London entered Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions.
The chairman of the Commons Defence Select Committee said he went to the Iraq Britain Business Council event, which was described on the organisers’ website as a “Christmas party”, for business purposes as permitted under Tier 2 rules.
Tier 2 guidance issued by the government says that “gatherings for work purposes are only allowed where they are reasonably necessary”.
Mr Ellwood, who is MP for Bournemouth East in Dorset, said the event was a “business reception/dinner” in which he “gleaned extremely useful intelligence” about the issues on the ground in the Middle East.
He attended the event a day after saying in the House of Commons that allowing families to meet over Christmas “could be very dangerous indeed”, and suggesting that easing the rules over the festive period could lead to a “third wave” of the virus.
“The event took place at the respect Cavalry and Guards Club under strict Covid compliant conditions,” Mr Ellwood said in a statement after his attendance was reported by the Daily Mail.
“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 compliant – perceptions count.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel has suggested that Mr Ellwood could face a fine for going to the event.
Asked by ITV News if the MP’s 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 Mr Ellwood should be punished, the home secretary replied: “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.”
Asked about Mr Ellwood, Boris Johnson’s spokesman told a regular briefing with journalists: “I would point you to the home secretary’s words.
“The PM has been clear throughout the pandemic that it’s vital for everybody to abide by the rules in order to suppress the virus and therefore protect the NHS and save lives.”
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David Cowdery, secretary of the Cavalry and Guards Club, said: “We don’t comment on private events here at the club.
“The full COVID policy issued by the club was given to the organisers of the event.”
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