Leaked video has revealed Downing Street’s senior staff joking about an alleged lockdown-breaking Christmas party at Number 10 last year — published just days after the deputy prime minister denied there was a party at Boris Johnson’s residence. The prime minister apologised for the video, but continues to maintain that there was no such event.
On November 30th, The Mirror published an exclusive report claiming that Downing Street staff had had a Christmas party on December 18th, 2020, for about 40 to 50 people, while the rest of London was under Tier 3 lockdown which banned residents from different households mixing indoors and just one day before much of the south of England was thrust into Tier 4, effectively cancelling Christmas for many families. While many Britons were forced to spend sometimes their last Christmas with loved ones during restrictions, the left-wing tabloid claimed that officials were enjoying Secret Santa and a festive quiz.
The report was corroborated by another in The Times, which claimed that it was told the party was organised in advance via a WhatsApp group. Downing Street denied this week that a party took place; however, the prime minister on Tuesday would not confirm or deny there was a party, but remarked that “what I can tell you is that all the guidelines were observed”. While Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab admitted on Sunday that if a party were held, it would be against the rules and would have been “the wrong thing to do”, but went on to claim the reports were “unsubstantiated”.
By Tuesday, major British broadcaster ITV News released a leaked video showing Allegra Stratton, the former press secretary for Prime Minister Johnson’s expensive and brief foray into White House-style press briefings, joking about the party that Number 10 later denied.
The recording of a rehearsal press briefing from December 22nd, 2020, for the planned daily televised briefings showed around a dozen Number 10 staff joking about “cheese and wine” and a gathering that definitely was not socially distanced.
Speaking from where the press would presumably be sitting, a man identified by ITV as Johnson’s special advisor Ed Oldfield questioned Stratton — a former establishment medial journalist who in fact did not host a single press event before the prime minister abandoned the plans — in rehearsals over “reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night”.
Stratton laughed before saying, “I went home”, laughing again, and then failing, even in rehearsal format amongst staff, to tackle such a serious allegation of Number 10 breaking lockdown laws.
Following the pause, Mr Oldfield, appearing to play at being a journalist, then asked if Johnson would condone having a Christmas party, again provoking laughter from Stratton, now the UK’s COP26 climate cheerleader, who then responded: “What’s the answer?”
“It wasn’t a party… it was cheese and wine,” one Downing Street employee said, appearing to acknowledge that there was indeed a party, but that the facade was that it did not, somehow, qualify as such.
“Is cheese and wine alright? It was a business meeting,” Allegra continued, playing along with the charade in the 9 Downing Street press room, which cost the taxpayer some £2.6 million to refurbish and kit out.
“This is recorded,” Stratton acknowledged, before continuing on in a mocking tone and laughing: “This fictional party was a business meeting… and it was not socially distanced.”
London’s Metropolitan Police service told ITV News that while “it is our policy not to routinely investigate retrospective breaches of the Covid 19 regulations, however the footage will form part of our considerations.”
Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood expressed anger over the leaked video, calling for a civil servant-led investigation into the alleged lockdown breach at Number 10 last Christmas. Boris Johnson’s spokesman continues to deny that there was a party.
Bereaved families who lost relatives during the pandemic have also told the BBC that they were “sickened” by the reports of the party, with a source also confirming to the major British news outlet that “several dozen” people had attended.
During Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Mr Johnson said that he was “furious to see that clip” and apologised for the impression it gave, but maintains that there was no party and no rules were violated.
“I apologise unreservedly for the offence that it gave up and down the country,” Mr Johnson said, adding that he had been “repeatedly assured that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”.
He said that the Cabinet will investigate the issue and if rules were broken, there would be a disciplinary investigation.
Reacting to the leaked video, Brexit leader Nigel Farage condemned Downing Street, saying: “They thought it was funny. They laughed, as if to say, ‘oh, we are going to get away with this, aren’t we?”
Mr Farage continued: “I know tonight there are millions of people who’ll be saying to themselves, that was our last opportunity to spend Christmas with our mother, our father, our grandmother, our grandfather, and despite the fact we obeyed the rules because Government told us to and terrified us with constant newspaper, television, and radio adverts, they ignored it, they carried on as they were, they treated us with complete and utter contempt.”
“This is not a Westminster story, this affects everyone in the land,” Farage said, predicting that “there is no way” Boris Johnson “can lie his way out of this one. It just isn’t going to happen.
“I think this is actually the beginning of the end of Boris Johnson as prime minister, because any further edict over Omicron, any regulations that now get put in place, why the hell would millions of us obey them when clearly we’re being led by people who treat us with such a low level of contempt?
“This is a big moment in British politics.”