Updated: Dec 9, 2021
Boris Johnson has come under fire for lying, after senior No 10 officials were filmed joking about a lockdown Christmas party that Downing Street insists did not take place.
The prime minister and his aides have repeatedly denied that the event, held for staff at No 10 in December last year, broke Covid rules or took place at all.
In the leaked video of a mock televised press briefing, an adviser to Johnson is seen joking with Allegra Stratton, the prime minister’s then press secretary, about “a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night”.
The footage, obtained by ITV, was shot on 22 December 2020. The Friday before was 18 December, the date on which multiple sources have said there was a staff party inside Downing Street, which would have contravened strict Covid regulations in place at the time.
It shows Stratton, prime ministerial adviser Ed Oldfield and other staff making a series of jokes about a party, including references to “cheese and wine”, the lack of social distancing and making the excuse it was a business meeting.
Quizzed in the leaked footage, Stratton laughingly says: “This is recorded … This fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced.”
Johnson has repeatedly said no Covid rules were broken, while a spokesman for Downing Street denied on Tuesday that any event at Downing Street took place. Asked about the video, Downing Street insisted it had not changed its view, saying: “There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times.”
Separately, the Department for Education confirmed a report that some staff and the then education secretary Gavin Williamson held an office party on 10 December last year, while London was in tier 2, the second-highest level of Covid restrictions.
There are reports that Mr Williamson gave a speech while up to two dozen staff gathered in a cafe area drinking wine. A DfE spokesperson said that on that date, “a gathering” took place of officials already present at the office “to thank those staff for their efforts during the pandemic”.
Labour Leader, Keir Starmer, said Johnson had not been truthful: “To lie and to laugh about those lies is shameful. The prime minister now needs to come clean and apologise.”
Becky Kummer, spokesperson for Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice said that there were no words to describe how upsetting and shameful it has been to hear Boris Johnson’s team laughing about breaking the rules they had made, whilst others followed them and could only say goodbye to their loved ones through a screen.
"It’s the behaviour of people who think they’re above us,” she added.
The No 10 video was recorded as part of preparations for planned daily televised briefings hosted by Stratton, which were later abandoned.
The aftermath of the scandal will increase pressure for a formal inquiry into what happened. It may also fuel calls for police action, with Labour MPs having already reported earlier allegations to the Metropolitan police.
It has been reported that Met will review the leaked footage.
The government has come under intense pressure and scrutiny over perceived dishonesty and double standards in Downing Street, particularly over Covid rules especially after former advisor Dominic Cummings travelled to Durham from London during lockdown in spring 2020.
On Monday Cummings, Johnson’s former chief adviser, said in a tweet that Downing Street had lied about the party, calling this “very unwise”.
Staff in No 10 were said to be feeling “very unsettled” in the wake of the footage emerging, with questions being raised about the actions of Stratton and Oldfield.
Some Tory MPs were also said to be angry at what they saw as more evidence of Downing Street’s lack of professionalism emerged.
The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, said that if the narrative about the party in the video are correct, “then the prime minister’s position is untenable”.