'Cheese, Wine, No Social Distancing': BoJo Staff Joked About Lockdown Christmas Bash in Leaked Video
Boris Johnson earlier faced a grilling during Prime Minister's Questions in the wake of a report by The Mirror that he and his aides attended at least two No 10 parties during COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in 2020, with calls for a probe into allegations that “there is one rule for the government and another for everyone else".
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been urged to “come clean and apologise” after footage has revealed that his Downing Street staff joked about a lockdown Christmas party
in 2020 that the Prime Minister refused to acknowledge had taken place.
Senior No 10 staff are heard laughingly refer to “cheese and wine” while ostensibly helping Johnson’s then spokesperson, Allegra Stratton, prep for a daily TV media briefing in a video dated 22 December and leaked by ITV News. Such briefings were subsequently abandoned by Downing Street.
In the footage, staff, including prime ministerial adviser Ed Oldfield, are heard asking Stratton mock questions at the 9 Downing Street press room. According to a transcript of the video, printed by the outlet, Oldfield asks:
“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”, answers Stratton laughingly. She then tells those gathered to "hold on", and produces a series of “umm, errr, ahhhh” noises, seemingly at a loss for the right words. After Oldfield asks, “Would the prime minister condone having a Christmas party?” Stratton laughs again and replies, “what’s the answer?”
Someone from among Downing Street staff then quips: “It wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine.” “Is cheese and wine alright?” asks Stratton asks. In reply, the aforementioned staff member appears to say "No... joking".
Stratton goes into another fit of laughter and adds “it was a business meeting,” while warning those gathered for the “mock” press briefing that “this is recorded”. Allegra Stratton finally sums up in the video that “this fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced.”
‘Guidelines Followed at All Times’
and No 10 have been denying that any COVID-19 lockdown rules were breached on 18 December 2020 after The Mirror had reported that a “boozy” Christmas bash had been hosted at Downing Street that day, with an estimated 40-50 people participating.
While there have not been any claims the PM had been in attendance, London was under Tier 3 restrictions at the time. According to rules set in place to clamp down on the spread of the coronavirus, it was stated that “no person may participate in a gathering in the Tier 3 area which consists of two or more people, and takes place in any indoor space”. Furthermore, guidance last year had been clear that people “must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity”.
However, according to a succession of outlets, including The Guardian, Mirror, BBC and others, sources claimed dozens of people had attended a Downing Street party, where they were crammed into a room “cheek by jowl”, and food and drink were served, with party games on offer for the amusement of the guests.
2 December 2021, 06:38 GMT
If the event, as suggested by Stratton in the leaked footage, had been a "business meeting", it could still have violated the official government guidance that urged at the time that work meetings should "use remote working tools to avoid in-person meetings" and only "absolutely necessary" participants should attend in person.
Boris Johnson has repeatedly insisted that there had not been any breach of COVID-19 rules throughout the period in question. On Tuesday, the PM responded to the reports by saying:
"I am satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times."
As for Downing Street, a Johnson spokesman denied earlier on Tuesday that any aforementioned event had taken place, saying: “There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times.”
Ministers including Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab and the Health Secretary echoed the statements, with Sajid Javid quoted by ITV News as voicing “absolute confidence” that all rules were observed at Number 10.
‘Treating Public with Contempt’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer slammed the government for "treating the public with contempt". He urged the PM to apologize, while describing the leaked video as "shameful."
"The prime minister needs to be straight about this, he has been pretending that there was no breach of the rules when it's blindingly obvious there was and to see people now laughing about it when other people were not seeing their loved ones and some of them never saw them again, that is contemptuous", Keir Starmer was cited as saying.
Ian Blackford, Leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in the House of Commons, was quoted as saying that if the lockdown party mentioned in the video had taken place, “then the prime minister’s position is untenable” and he “must remove himself from office immediately”.
Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Ed Davey, said the developments show that “it’s one rule for us and one rule for him, with the Conservatives continuing to take people for granted."
On Monday Dominic Cummings
, Johnson’s former chief adviser, who had drawn scrutiny over perceived double standards after himself travelling to Durham from London during lockdown in spring 2020, tweeted to say that Downing Street had been “very unwise” to lie about the party.
With the current developments following a succession of scandals
involving “sleaze” within the government, some Tory MPs were cited as perceiving the fresh revelations adding to evidence of Downing Street’s lack of professionalism.
“This has the potential to be very bad,” a source was cited as saying, while another added:
“The handling of the Owen Paterson affair showed the PM didn’t think the rules applied to his friends. This video demonstrates that’s a view widely shared in No 10 by very senior political advisers, appointed by the PM. People prevented by the government from seeing their loved ones at the end of their life will feel like they’re being taken for fools.”
Earlier, Labour lawmaker Neil Coyle asked
Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick to investigate the allegations that Downing Street held at least two parties during the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in 2020, saying: "I believe they broke the law... [UK Prime Minister Boris] Johnson is not above the law, despite his bloated self-entitlement."