UK Tory Hosted ‘Reckless’ Xmas Bash as Downing Street COVID-Breaching Party Scandal Gathers Steam
Earlier, in a video from last December leaked by ITV News, senior Downing Street staff were shown laughing about a lockdown Christmas party in 2020 when London was under strict Tier 3 restrictions. No 10 had previously refused to acknowledge such an event had taken place, insisting "guidelines were followed at all times."
Amid scandalous reports that Downing Street held at least two No 10 parties during COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in 2020, the former UK Education Secretary is revealed to have hosted a separate Christmas bash, according to the Mirror.
Gavin Williamson reportedly invited “up to two-dozen people” in his department on 10 December over “for drinks and canapes when London was in Tier 2”.
Tier 2 coronavirus restrictions in place at the time had banned any social mixing between household, with the number of people in one indoor space limited to six.
The former Cabinet minister purportedly delivered a short speech at the gathering.
“There were lots of people gathered in the cafe area, mingling and drinking wine. It was just so reckless,” a source was cited as saying, while another one added:
“He hosted a drinks do when people were considering whether they could spend Christmas with their families.”
The Department for Education admitted the party took place last December during a time when social mixing between households was banned.
“On December 10 2020 a gathering of colleagues who were already present at the office took place in the DfE office building in London at a time when the city was subject to Tier 2 restrictions. The gathering was used to thank those staff for their efforts during the pandemic. Drinks and snacks were brought by those attending and no outside guests or supporting staff were invited or present. 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,” said a DfE spokesperson.
Christmas Party Scandal
News of Williamson’s lockdown party came just hours after a leaked video was aired by ITV News showing senior Downing Street staff joking about holding a banned Christmas party during COVID-19 restrictions last year.
Dated last December, the footage shows Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s then spokesperson Allegra Stratton laughing during preparations for a daily TV media briefing, saying that the party at Downing Street was just “cheese and wine.”
According to a transcript of the video, staff, including then prime ministerial adviser Ed Oldfield, asked Stratton mock questions at the 9 Downing Street press room. Eventually Stratton is heard saying that “this fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced.”
The Mirror had earlier reported that a “boozy” Christmas bash had been hosted at Downing Street on 18 December 2020 with an estimated 40-50 people participating.
However, Boris Johnson and No 10 have been denying any breach of COVID-19 lockdown rules, insisting that "guidelines were followed at all times."
'I am satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times'@BorisJohnson responds to new claims in The Times about an alleged Covid-rule-breaking party in Downing Street last Christmashttps://t.co/yyZ1W7FdLW pic.twitter.com/nH2bPAzKvZ— ITV News Politics (@ITVNewsPolitics) December 7, 2021
Amid the uproar, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged Johnson to “come clean and apologise”. He also slammed the PM’s aides for laughing and lying “shamefully.”
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”.
The Metropolitan Police are cited as being aware of the newly-surfaced footage and considering an investigation into the alleged violations of COVID-19 regulations in government buildings last December.
As the scandal spiraled, some backbenchers suggested Boris Johnson's could be forced to resign because of the video. “I'm tired of it. He has to go. Clean sweep. It's unsustainable,” a Tory source was cited by the Daily Mail as saying.
Another source was cited as saying:
“It confirms my suspicion of the sheer arrogance and hypocrisy of those orchestrating lockdown measures.”
According to Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale, The current situation had “all the hallmarks of another 'Barnard Castle' moment”, in a reference to the Prime Minister's former aide, Dominic Cummings. The No 10 ex-strategist had driven 260 miles to Durham from London during strict lockdown conditions last year, drawing scrutiny over perceived double standards. Cummings left Downing Street in November 2020 after losing an internal power struggle reportedly involving Johnson’s wife, Carrie Johnson and her allies, including Stratton.
4 December 2021, 06:02 GMT
On Wednesday, Dominic Cummings suggested that Boris Johnson could be forced from office over the Christmas party scandal. He went on Twitter to warn of “regime change” coming adding that “the Fish rots from the head.”
As the search for the mole who leaked the footage aired by ITV get underway, one Tory MP was cited by the Daily Mail as suggesting Cummings and his allies might have been involved.
“It has to be someone senior. Who had them and kept them this long? It does feel like a Cummings operation,” said the source.