A leaked video shows senior Downing Street staff laughing and joking about a Christmas party that is alleged to have taken place while the country was under lockdown restrictions last winter.
The prime minister’s then-spokesperson, Allegra Stratton, is heard referencing “cheese and wine”, and joking that there was “definitely no social distancing”.
The clip obtained by ITV News shows Boris Johnson’s team preparing for press conferences that were due to take place in a media suite refurbished by Downing Street at a cost of £2.6 million before they were then scrapped.
The mock press conference shown in the leaked video happened on December 22, just four days after the alleged party took place.
In the video, Ed Oldfield, an adviser to the prime minister, asks 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?”
“I went home”, replies Ms Stratton, laughing, before then collecting herself and seemingly trying to work out how to respond to the question.
She seems lost for words, making noises like: “Ummm, ahhhh”…
There was a lengthy pause, after which Mr Oldfield asks: “Would the prime minister condone having a Christmas party?”
Ms Stratton laughs again, and looks down, before saying: “what’s the answer?”
The staff present for the mock press conference then attempted to help Ms Stratton construct an answer to the question.
Above: A tweet from Avon and Somerset Police on the day the alleged party took place
“It wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine”, said one staff member.
“Is cheese and wine alright?” Ms Stratton queries. The member of staff who made the suggestion then appears to say: “No… joking”.
Ms Stratton then says: “it was a business meeting”, and laughs once again.
Noting the multiple cameras around the room, Ms Stratton reminds her colleagues: “This is recorded” and adds while laughing: “this fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced.”
The government has spent the last week denying that such a gathering took place. Those denials were repeated last night in response to ITV’s story, with Downing Street saying: “There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times.”
What has the reaction been?
Criticism of the government was immediate and explosive, with Labour leader Keir Starmer saying: “People across the country followed the rules, even when that meant being separated from loved ones. They had a right to expect the government was doing the same.
“To lie and to laugh about those lies is shameful. We have a Prime Minister who’s socially distanced from the truth.”
Jacob Rees-Mogg, North Somerset MP and Leader of the House of Commons, has also come under fire after a video emerged of him joking about the alleged party at a think tank’s Christmas bash on Monday evening (December 6).
Labour MP for Bristol West and also Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Thangam Debbonaire, said in response to the various revelations: “The PM and his mates think they’re above the law. They think they can repeatedly break the rules we’ve all been following to keep ourselves and others safe. And when they’re found out, it’s all a big joke.
“People in the South West – and across the UK – made huge sacrifices over the last two years. They tell me they have had enough of this incompetent Prime Minister and his ministers, who have often seen this pandemic as an opportunity to make money instead of a public health emergency.
“It’s one rule for them, another for the rest of us. And it’s just not funny.”