https://www.bbc.com-Image source, Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street
The PM’s press chief addressed staff and gave out awards at a Downing Street party last Christmas that is now under investigation, it is understood.
Jack Doyle, then deputy director of communications, gave a speech to 20-30 people at the gathering on 18 December.
A source has told the BBC there were food, drinks and games at the event.
Downing Street said: “There is an ongoing review, and we won’t be commenting further while that is the case”.
This event is one of three government staff gatherings from last year now being investigated by the UK’s top civil servant, Simon Case.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said news of Mr Doyle’s attendance had “exposed” Mr Case’s inquiry as a “sham”.
Mr Doyle was also attending Covid meetings in No 10 that night, which went on until late in the evening, the BBC has been told.
It is understood every Friday Mr Doyle would thank staff for working hard and give out an award.
ITV News, which first reported that Mr Doyle was present at this event on 18 December, said he had also handed out award certificates to staff on this occasion.
The event took place two days after London went into Tier 3 lockdown restrictions, meaning people were told not to mix indoors with anyone outside their household or support bubble.
No 10 has refused to explain how the party complied with Covid restrictions in force at the time, despite a deepening row and days of questioning by reporters.
Sources in Westminster are questioning whether it is possible for Mr Doyle to stay in his job. In part that’s because one of the problems this week for No 10 has been their efforts to deny and explain what did or didn’t happen.
Ministers, and the prime minister himself, have been stuck in the Kafka-esque position of saying that they are sure no rules were broken, but they also don’t know what went on.
If they don’t know what happened, how can they be sure that nothing went wrong?
And if multiple sources have said there was a gathering of several dozen people, and people who were not on the Downing Street payroll had been invited, how can that have been just a few work drinks at the desk in a Covid-secure office?
Mr Doyle, well-liked by his colleagues, is – as director of communications – in charge of the government’s messaging. This week the message has misfired, which makes his confirmed attendance a very big problem.
And for government spinners over the years have often found, there is one fundamental error they cannot make. That’s to become part of the story themselves, an uncomfortable position that Boris Johnson’s press chief now finds himself in.
On Wednesday, the prime minister told the Commons that he had been “repeatedly assured” that there had been no party and that no Covid rules had been broken on that date.
The row has already prompted the resignation of government adviser Allegra Stratton, who quit her post on Wednesday after an angry backlash over a video she appeared in from last December where she joked about a Christmas party.
In the video, obtained by ITV News, the PM’s then-press secretary took part in a mock press conference four days after the 18 December event, where she laughed with other staff about how to describe it.
Following her resignation, Mr Johnson told MPs that he was “furious” about the clip and was launching an investigation into whether rules had been broken last Christmas.
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, who is carrying out the investigation, is also looking into a No 10 staff event on 27 November last year, and a gathering at the Department of Education on 10 December. The inquiry could be widened out if it considered there are credible allegations about other events.
After it emerged Mr Doyle spoke at the 18 December event, Ms Rayner said: “The government’s internal investigation has been exposed as the sham it is.
“The investigation has only just published its terms of reference, and we are already seeing more details from the media than the Cabinet Office about the parties.”
Mr Johnson is also facing pressure on other fronts, including fresh questions about a revamp of his official Downing Street flat.
On Thursday, the Conservative Party was fined £17,800 by the Electoral Commission for “failing to accurately report a donation” that paid for the work.
Labour says new information revealed by the elections watchdog suggests the PM lied to his own standards adviser, Lord Geidt, about how the work was funded.
Asked explicitly if Mr Johnson had lied to Lord Geidt, the PM’s spokesman said: “No.”
Mr Johnson is also facing a rebellion from Conservative MPs over his plans announced on Wednesday to introduce tighter Covid curbs in England to tackle the Omicron variant.
Dozens of Tories have hit out at his extra restrictions ahead of a vote next week, particularly the plans for mandatory Covid passes for nightclubs and large events.
The Plan B measures aiming to limit the spread of Omicron also include wider rules on wearing face coverings, and once again advising people to work from home if they can.
Commenting on the disquiet among Conservative ranks, former cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell said the mood in the party was “sulphurous”, adding: “What we need now is a bit of grip from No 10.”
Mr Mitchell added: “It’s no good having these stories dragged out by the media. The government needs to make a clean breast of it.”