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Downing Street Christmas Party: What We Know Now

·5-min read
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street last week.  (Photo: Stefan Rousseau - PA Images via Getty Images)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street last week. (Photo: Stefan Rousseau - PA Images via Getty Images)

Downing Street is facing a scandal that even Conservative MPs are describing as another “Barnard Castle moment”.

Reminiscent of Dominic Cummings’ infamous lockdown trip to County Durham, senior aides are once again accused of flouting lockdown rules.

The row surrounds an alleged Christmas party in No10 in December 2020 – when social mixing indoors was banned in London under Tier 3 restrictions.

“Several dozen” members of staff are said have played party games and had food and drink at the event that apparently went on past midnight on December 18.

The controversy reached new heights last night when bombshell footage emerged of senior aides joking about a “fictional” party just four days after the gathering.

The video was revealed by ITV following an exposé in the Mirror last week that claimed there was a party in Downing Street on December 18.

In the footage, the prime minister’s then press secretary is seen answering questions at a mock press conference on December 22.

Allegra Stratton is asked by colleagues about reports of a party the previous Friday and in jokey exchanges, she says: “This fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced.”

Although it has all the hallmarks of another Barnard Castle moment, this time Boris Johnson is facing serious questions over his own comments about the incident.

He has also been forced to order an investigation into the leaked video as well as issue an apology to the public.

Here, HuffPost UK runs you through what we know so far.

Allegations

The government has been under severe pressure about a Christmas party since it was first revealed in the Mirror last week.

The newspaper said last year’s official Downing Street Christmas party had been cancelled due to restrictions, but staff held an unofficial gathering on December 18.

Sources have told the Guardian, Mirror, BBC and other outlets that several dozen people were packed tightly at the party, and that there was food and drink served, with party games and “secret Santa” presents.

Boris Johnson

The prime minister has insisted that Covid rules were followed “at all times” in No10. However, he has repeatedly dodged questions about whether or not a party took place.

Last week at prime minister’s questions, Labour leader Keir Starmer pressed him on whether a “boozy party” was held at No10 in run-up to Christmas 2020.

Johnson did not deny it, simply saying that “all guidance was followed completely at No10”.

Yesterday, on a visit to a prison, Johnson again did not deny a party had taken place but added: “I am satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times.”

On Wednesday, during prime minister’s questions, he apologised for the video in which aides appeared to joke about a Christmas party during lockdown.

Announcing an investigation into the incident, the prime minister told the Commons he was “furious” to see the footage of his former press secretary.

However, he insisted he had been “repeatedly assured” since the allegations emerged that there was “no party and that no Covid rules were broken”.

Ministers

Government ministers have been repeatedly grilled on the morning media rounds over their stance on the party.

Vaccines minister Maggie Throup was ridiculed for her answer when she told BBC Question Time on Thursday: “I have been reassured that all guidance was carefully followed as it continually is…Whatever the event was, the guidance was followed…this has been just rumour and hearsay.”

Deputy prime minister Dominic Raab said on Sunday that having a party would have been wrong, but described the reports as “unsubstantiated”.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: “The PM’s very clear no rules were broken. I wasn’t there by the way.”

However, he was also ridiculed when he said the police “don’t normally look back and investigate things that have taken place a year ago”.

Policing minister Kit Malthouse told Sky News on Monday: “We are assured, I’ve been assured, that everything was done to comply with Covid regulations at the time…my general view is that when crime is reported it should be investigated”.

The Spin

No10 initially did not say the reports were inaccurate and insisted that all rules had been followed.

However, they ramped up their rebuttal on Monday, eventually saying that there was “not” a party held on the premises.

The prime minister’s official spokesman told journalists: “As the press secretary set out at a number of occasions, when questioned about this originally, there was not a party and the covid rules were followed at all times.”

Pressed on how they established that rules were not broken, the spokesman added: “I don’t need to get into the positions we’ve taken, it’s simply just a statement of fact.”

Asked how it was a statement of fact if they had not investigated, he replied: “I’m not going to get into internal matters. As I said, guidance has been followed at all times.”

Police

At the time of the supposed Downing Street party police were actively looking for Covid rule breakers.

London’s Metropolitan Police Service shut down a wedding attended by “nearly 40 people” on December 17 - just a day before the alleged party.

The Met said they do not routinely investigate “retrospective breaches” of Covid regulations but confirmed they would look at the Stratton footage.

The Met Police said in a statement to ITV News: “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.”

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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