Staff joke about Downing Street Christmas party during lockdown
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For the past week, the Prime Minister has insisted that any Downing Street Christmas gathering was “in line with Covid restrictions”. But new footage shows Mr Johnson’s then-press secretary Allegra Stratton laughing about a Christmas party at Downing Street not being socially distanced.
The party took place on December 18, just a few days before Ms Stratton was filmed, according to a BBC source.
At the time, the Government’s Covid guidance specifically stated that people should not have Christmas parties – and gatherings in London of two or more people indoors were banned unless they were “reasonably necessary” for work.
A day after Ms Stratton’s exchange, Mr Johnson announced that strict lockdown rules would be in place over Christmas for parts of England, meaning many could not see relatives during the festive period.
Mr Johnson has been called on to resign and received words of condemnation from his own Tory peers.
In the clip, obtained by ITV, Ms Stratton responds in a playful tone to questions from colleagues pretending to be journalists.
Special adviser to the Prime Minister Ed Oldfield asks her about reports of a party in Downing Street “on Friday night”.
In reply, Ms Stratton laughs and says: “I went home…. Hold on, hold on, errrrrr.”
After Mr Oldfield follows up to question if the Prime Minister would “condone” a Christmas party.
Ms Stratton laughs again and asks: “What’s the answer?”
When another aide jokes that the answer should be “it wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine”, she laughs and asks “is cheese and wine alright? It was a business meeting.”
She then points out: “This is recorded”, adding: “This fictional party was a business meeting, and it was not socially distanced.”
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In response to the clip, No 10 said: “There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times.”
The categoric denial appears to be at odds with reports that say more than 50 people attended.
The Metropolitan Police are now investigating the footage.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid was expected to appear on BBC Breakfast and the Today programme but cancelled. No other minister was offered as a replacement.
Dominic Raab and two other ministers have also cancelled media engagements after the leak.
Dr Saleyha Ahsan, of the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Group, said her jaw had hit the floor when she watched the video and brought back flashbacks of last December when her father fell ill with Covid, and later died.
This latest revelation was “like a bullet to the chest”, she said, and showed the Government’s “lack of regard for the rest of us”.
Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer said people across the country had “followed the rules even when that meant being separated from their families”, while many had been “unable to say goodbye to their loved ones”.
He added: “To lie and to laugh about those lies is shameful, the Prime Minister now needs to come clean and apologise.”
His deputy leader, Angela Rayner, also expressed her anger, saying: “Nearly 150,000 people have died from Covid in the UK. Hundreds of local businesses have been forced to close.
“Children have missed nearly a year of vital education. Billions of pounds were wasted on useless PPE when our brave key workers wore bin bags.
“They partied, we paid.”
A senior Conservative told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg the Owen Paterson affair showed the Prime Minister “didn’t think the rules applied to his friends”, adding: “This video demonstrates that’s widely shared in No 10 by senior political advisers.
“People prevented by the Government from seeing loved ones at end of their life will conclude they were taken for fools.”
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Matt Hancock grilled on Downing Street Christmas party
The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, said the Prime Minister “must remove himself from office immediately” if it was true there was a Downing Street Christmas party that was not socially distanced last year.
The vice-chair of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers, Charles Walker, said the video would have an impact on any future restrictions Downing Street wanted to introduce.
He told Today: “The events of last Christmas on 18 December are clearly very, very unfortunate, but I am much more interested in this Christmas.
“I think that this video makes it very, very difficult now for the government to have anything but voluntary restrictions on people’s mixing and mingling.
“People, if required in law not to meet friends and relatives, will say, ‘look, it didn’t happen last year at No 10 Downing Street [so] it is not going to happen this year at No 10 Acacia Avenue’.”
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