Downing Street remains under pressure from accusations illegal Christmas parties were held in December 2020, after footage showing Boris Johnson’s then-press secretary joking about the situation was leaked.
In a video obtained by ITV, Allegra Stratton appears to confirm a party took place as she delivers what seems to be a rehearsal for a press conference.
She laughs throughout the footage, saying she “went home” and that the party “wasn’t socially distanced”.
The video footage is allegedly from 22 December 2020 when strict COVID-19 tier three restrictions were in place in London.
The UK Government has so far denied that any party took place.
Wednesday, 8 December, could prove to be a tough day for Boris Johnson with MPs, including his own Conservative Party backbenchers, set to grill him at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs).
At a glance: 5 key points
- Last week, an unnamed source told the media that Downing Street had hosted Christmas parties in December 2020, despite London being under strict tier three restrictions which prohibited households mixing inside at the time
- This included one party on 18 December 2020, in which guests were allegedly served food and drinks inside No.10 and also took part in party games
- Downing Street has denied that any gathering of the sort took place, with MPs insisting that no such party had taking place
- However, the leaked footage, which appears to be from 22 December 2020, shows Ms Stratton joking about the alleged party in a video filmed at a mock press conference to prep for questions from the media
- The Metropolitan Police have now confirmed that they are reviewing the footage after earlier saying that no action would be taken on the allegations
Meanwhile, the Department for Education (DfE) has admitted it held a separate 10 December 2020 party, first reported by the Daily Mirror, when London was under tier two rules - a gathering which contravened social-distancing rules.
A DfE spokesperson said: “While this was work-related, looking back we accept it would have been better not to have gathered in this way at that particular time.”
What was said in the leaked footage?
The leaked footage shows Johnson’s former press secretary standing at the Downing street podium being asked questions by her colleagues in what appears to be preparation for a real press conference.
During the rehearsal, Ed Oldfield - a special advisor to Boris Johnson - asks Ms Stratton about a Downing Street party which took place on “Friday”, which would have been 18 December 2020, in an apparent attempt to prepare for any similar questions from the media.
The mention of the party was made when details of the alleged gathering were not yet made public.
In the footage, Ms Stratton jokes that she “went home” before being asked by Oldfield if the Prime Minister would condone a Christmas party, to which she replies: “What’s the answer?”
Another employee sitting in the media area then says: “It wasn’t a party it was cheese and wine.”
Ms Stratton then jokingly asks: “Is cheese and wine alright? It was a business meeting.” before receiving laughter from those in the room.
She then, while laughing throughout, goes on to say: “This is recorded. This fictional party was a business meeting... and it was not socially distanced.”
What has been said about the footage so far?
The footage has caused controversy for Downing Street, which has so far denied that any such party took place.
“There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times,” a spokesperson said.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has blasted the Tories, claiming that they “broke rules, they parties and now they’re laughing.”
Speaking to ITV, he said: “Unfortunately we have a Prime Minister who is socially distanced from the truth.
“I think he has not been straight about this at all. It is increasingly obvious that there was a party – today’s evidence only adds to that.
“Instead of accepting that and being honest about it, the Prime Minister is pretending there weren’t breaches of any of the rules.
“You don’t need a great long criminal investigation to get to the bottom of this – it is pretty obvious what happened.”
Perhaps even more concerning for the Prime Minister were comments from long-serving Kent Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale, who tweeted: “No 10 clearly has some serious questions to answer. Fast.”
The North Thanet MP’s comments suggest Boris Johnson’s own backbenchers could also be taking him to task in the House of Commons today.
Meanwhile, an NHS England worker told the PA news agency she was “incandescent” with anger at the leaked footage.
The anonymous staff member was working with Covid-19 patients in December 2020, when her mother was admitted to her hospital following a fall.
Due to health protocols the worker was unable to visit her mum, who caught Covid in the hospital and later died from bacterial pneumonia.
“To say I’m angry… I’m incandescent. It’s the disrespect, it’s the one rule for us and another rule for them, that’s what’s the worst,” the staffer said.
“I see Allegra Stratton laughing up there and I feel sick, I feel disrespected, (like) I’ve been taken for a mug.
“I can’t put enough words together right now as to how appalling that behaviour is. It should have consequences.”
The Metropolitan Police have confirmed that officers are now reviewing the footage, after previously saying that no investigation would be taken into the allegations due to the “retrospective” nature of the claims.
A statement from the force said: “We are aware of footage obtained by ITV News relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at a Government building in December 2020.
“It is our policy not to routinely investigate retrospective breaches of the Covid-19 regulations, however the footage will form part of our considerations.”