British Public Outraged at Alleged No. 10 Christmas Party During Lockdown
Stephanie Jones is an freelance journalist, author and academic. Her work has featured in The Sunday Times, Stylist Magazine and is a commentator on Welsh radio.
Boris Johnson has been urged to ‘apologise’ over the supposed Downing Street Christmas party after footage emerged showing senior aides laughing and joking about a ‘fictional’ party days later which was attended by several dozen people.
Downing Street continues to insist no party took place and that coronavirus guidelines had been followed at all times following reports that a party took place on the 18th of December 2020.
Footage obtained by ITV News shows the Prime Minister’s then press secretary Allegra Stratton playfully answering questions at a mock press conference on the 22nd of December 2020. Colleagues were present pretending to be journalists enquiring about a party the previous Friday, the date of the alleged ‘gathering’.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called on Boris Johnson to ‘come clean and apologise’, adding that for aides ‘to lie and to laugh about those lies is shameful’. In the clip, adviser Ed Oldfield asked Ms Stratton: ‘I’ve just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night, do you recognise those reports?’. Ms Stratton replied ‘I went home’ before appearing to think about what the correct response should be.
During the rehearsal, filmed as part of an abandoned plan for Ms Stratton to lead televised press briefings, Mr Oldfield pressed her for an answer.
He asked: ‘Would the Prime Minister condone having a Christmas party?’
Ms Stratton asked her colleagues in the room ‘what’s the answer’, and staff in the press room appeared to suggest possible ideas, with one stating ‘it wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine’.
She replied, ‘Is cheese and wine alright? It was a business meeting,’ to laughter in the room.
Ms Stratton then noted ‘this is recorded’, adding: ‘This fictional party was a business meeting … and it was not socially distanced.’
The leaked footage was shot in the media room at 9 Downing Street, which was refurbished at a cost of £2.6 million in preparation for the televised broadcasts before the plan was later shelved.
Ministers are yet to explain how the alleged party complied with the Covid rules in place at the time, despite coming under pressure to do so.
It is suggested that two events took place in No 10 in the run-up to the Christmas season in 2020, including Boris Johnson giving a speech at a leaving party during November’s lockdown.
The other event was said to be a staff party in December, where party games were played, food and drinks were served, and festivities went on until the early hours. At the time of these events, the Tier 3 rules explicitly banned work Christmas lunches and parties where it is ‘a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted’. 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.
Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer stated that: ‘People across the country followed the rules even when that meant being separated from their families, locked down and tragically for many, unable to say goodbye to their loved ones. They had a right to expect that the Government was doing the same. To lie and to laugh about those lies is shameful. The Prime Minister now needs to come clean and apologise. It cannot be one rule for the Conservatives and another for everyone else.”
Asked by the BBC about the party, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss stated, “I don’t know the detail of what happened. I know that the prime minister’s spokesman answered those questions in detail and I am sure there will be further discussion of that issue, but my focus has been – as I am sure you can imagine – on foreign policy.”
Pushed on why the public should follow the rules if No 10 does not, she added: “We do follow the rules on Covid.” At the time, the government’s coronavirus 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.
No ministers have appeared in media interviews since the story hit the headlines, and some have event cancelled visits. Boris Johnson appeared on Prime Ministers Questions on the 8th of December 2021 and indicated that if rules were broken, there will be consequences for all those involved.