How the No 10 party is alleged to have taken place when millions of Britons were forced into near-lockdown
November 13 – Dominic Cummings alleges that the PM held a gathering at his grace-and-favour flat on November 13 last year, the day he was ousted from Downing Street.
November 27 – Mr Johnson reportedly gives a speech at a packed leaving do for a ‘senior aide’. ’40 or 50 people’ were present. The aide was named as one newspaper as Cleo Watson, Dominic Cummings’ protégé.
December 2 – London enters Tier 2 after second national lockdown banning social mixing indoors between households
December 10 – Gavin Williamson hosts Department for Education party for ‘up to 24 people’
December 16 – London enters Tier 3 restrictions banning all mixing of households except in parks
December 18 – Party for No10 staff is allegedly held inside Downing Street for ‘dozens’ of staff
December 19 – Boris Johnson holds dramatic press conference putting London into Tier 4 and cancelling Christmas
December 20 – London officially enters Tier 4 restrictions at midnight
December 22 – Allegra Stratton jokes about Downing Street party during practice press conference which is recorded on video
January 6 – England enters third national lockdown
Tearful Allegra Stratton tonight dramatically resigned as a government aide in the wake of bombshell video showing her giggling about an ‘illegal’ Christmas party in No10.
The former spokeswoman for the PM announced she had quit her £125,000 a year role offering a ‘profound apology’ for appearing to ‘make light’ of Covid rules.
In emotional comments to journalists near her London home, Ms Stratton said: ‘My remarks seemed to make light of rules, rules that people were doing everything to obey. That was never my intention.
‘I will regret those remarks for the rest of my days.’
In the video, Ms Stratton suggested she had not personally attended the party – quipping that she ‘went home’ instead.
The move came hours after Boris Johnson mounted a desperate effort to put a lid on the chaos threatening to derail the response to the Omicron variant. But the government seems paralysed by inability to disentangle the video scandal from the looming Covid crisis.
SAGE has warned ministers that Omicron hospital admissions could breach 1,000 a day in England by the end of the year without tougher restrictions to stem the spread of the super-mutant Covid variant.
The powerful Covid O Cabinet subcommittee has been meeting to sign off on ‘Plan B’ curbs, although the prospect of the proposals being finalised by tonight seems to be receding.
Mr Johnson opened a raucous PMQs by saying sorry for the footage of Ms Stratton and other staff joking about the gathering which happened on December 18 last year, during lockdown.
He said the government’s top civil servant Simon Case – who is not believed to have attended the party – would be looking into the situation.
Mr Johnson said he was ‘sickened’ and ‘disciplinary action’ would be taken against any staff found to have breached the regulations, but insisted he had been ‘repeatedly’ assured the rules had been followed.
The premier appealed for the public to focus on the threat from the mutant strain – with Plan B measures expected to be confirmed as early as this afternoon. But Keir Starmer shot back that Mr Johnson had lost the ‘moral authority’ to impose restrictions.
Tory MPs also hammered the PM by branding the Covid switch a ‘diversionary tactic’ from the No10 party row, while Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross warned he will have to resign if he knew about the gathering when he issued denials.
Meanwhile, former chief aide Dominic Cummings has waded in by alleging that there was a party in Mr Johnson’s grace-and-favour flat on November 13 last year, the day he was ousted from Downing Street.
Mr Case will also look at claimed former Education Secretary Gavin Williamson hosted a bash during the festive season, but significantly he will not consider any other events – meaning nothing the PM personally attended is in scope.
In her statement tonight, a weeping Ms Stratton said: ‘The British people have made immense sacrifices in the battle against COVID-19.
‘I now fear that my comments in the leaked video on 20 of December last year have now become a distraction in that fight.’
Ms Stratton, who has been the PM’s spokesman for COP26 since the idea of her doing daily televised briefings was ditched, went on: ‘Working in government is an immense privilege. I tried to do right by you all. To behave with civility and decency and act to the high standards you expect of No10.
‘I will always be proud of what was achieved at COP26 in Glasgow and the progress made on coal, cars, cash and trees.
‘This country and the PMs leadership on climate change and nature will make a lasting difference to the whole world.
‘It has been an honour to play a part in that. I understand the anger and frustration that people feel.
‘To all of you who lost loved ones, who endured intolerable loneliness, and who struggled with your businesses, I am truly sorry. This afternoon I am offering my resignation to the Prime Minister.’
On another tumultuous day for the government and country:
- The core Covid O Cabinet sub-committee is being presented with a series of options papers for tightening restrictions against the Omicron variant;
- A SAGE meeting yesterday is reported to have concluded there is a danger hospital admissions could top 1,000 a day by the end of the year without action;
- A snap poll by Savanta ComRes has found that 54 per cent of the public think Mr Johnson should resign over the Downing Street Christmas party debacle;
- The top civil servant at the Department for Education has admitted she could be disciplined over attending a drinks event last Christmas.
A tearful Allegra Stratton announced she had quit offering a ‘profound apology’ for giving the impression that she was ‘making light’ of Covid rules
Ms Stratton – who quipped on the video that she had not attended the Christmas party – wept as she read her resignation statement tonight
Boris Johnson (left) appealed for the public to focus on the threat from the Omicron strain – with Plan B measures expected to be confirmed as early as this afternoon. But Keir Starmer (right) shot back that Mr Johnson had lost the ‘moral authority’ to impose restrictions.
Former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the PM’s stance was not ‘remotely defensible’
Former chief aide Dominic Cummings has waded in by alleging that there was a party in Mr Johnson’s grace-and-favour flat on November 13 last year, the day he was ousted from Downing Street
Dominic Cummings claims there were MORE Downing Street parties
Dominic Cummings today alleged there were more illegal parties at No 10 that should be investigated including an allegation one was held in the Prime Minister’s own flat on the day he left Downing Street during the second national lockdown after losing a power struggle with Carrie Johnson.
Mr Cummings believes Boris Johnson could be forced from office over the No 10 Christmas party scandal and declared ‘regime change is coming’ as Tories pointed the finger at the rogue advisor and his supporters for the leak of a bombshell video.
It came as the Prime Minister apologised ‘unreservedly’ for the offence caused by the footage of his then-spokeswoman Allegra Stratton at a mock press conference.
But he insisted that he had been repeatedly assured that ‘there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken’. Mr Johnson said he had asked Cabinet Secretary Simon Case ‘to establish all the facts and to report back as soon as possible – and it goes without saying that if those rules were broken then there will be disciplinary action for all those involved’.
Following the announcement, the PM’s former chief adviser tweeted: ‘Will the CABSEC also be asked to investigate the *flat* party on Fri 13 Nov, the other flat parties, & the flat’s ‘bubble’ policy…?’. The bubble reference is believed to be about the decision to allow Carrie Johnson’s best friend Nimco Ali at Number 10 over the festive period ‘to help support and look after’ the Johnsons’ son, Wilfred.
Minutes later the PM was asked in the Commons about claims of a Downing St party in his flat after Mr Cummings left No 10. He replied. ‘No, but I’m sure that whatever happened the guidance was followed at all time.’
Kicking off the clashes in the House earlier, Mr Johnson said: ‘I understand and share the anger up and down the country at seeing No 10 staff seeming to make light of lockdown measures, and I can understand how infuriating it must be to think that people who have been setting the rules have not been following the rules because I was also furious to see that clip.
‘I apologise unreservedly for the offence that it has caused up and down the country and I apologise for the impression that it gives.
‘But I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken, and that is what I have been repeatedly assured.
‘I have asked the cabinet secretary to establish all the facts and to report back as soon as possible – and it goes without saying that if those rules were broken then there will be disciplinary action for all those involved.’
Mr Johnson said No10 would hand over any relevant evidence to the police if they ask for it.
But the Labour Leader said: ‘An internal investigation into what happened – the situation is as clear as day. I thought last week was bad enough.
‘Surely the Prime Minister hasn’t now going to start pretending that the first he knew about this was last night? Surely we have all watched the video of the Prime Minister’s staff including his personal spokesperson.
‘They knew there was a party, they knew it was against the rules, they knew they couldn’t admit it, and they thought it was funny.
‘It is obvious was happened. Ant and Dec are ahead of the Prime Minister on this. The Prime Minister has been caught red-handed. Why doesn’t he end the investigation right now by just admitting it?’
Mr Johnson replied: ‘Because I have been repeatedly assured that no rules were broken. I understand public anxiety about this… but there is a risk of doing a grave injustice to people who have frankly obeyed the rules.
‘That is why the Cabinet Secretary will be conducting an investigation, and that is why there will be requisite disciplinary action if necessary.’
In one brutal attack, Sir Keir contrasted Mr Johnson’s leadership with that of the Queen.
‘Her Majesty the Queen sat alone when she marked the passing of the man she’d been married to for 73 years. Leadership, sacrifice – that’s what gives leaders the moral authority to lead,’ the Labour leader said.
‘Does the Prime Minister think he has the moral authority to lead and to ask the British people to stick to the rules?’
Mr Johnson accused Sir Keir of trying to ‘muddy the waters, to confuse the public and to cause needless confusion about the guidance’ during the pandemic.
Conservative MPs have been turning on the PM, with demands for him to provide an ‘explanation’ and even warnings that misleading parliament on what happened will be a ‘resigning matter’.
One government source told MailOnline that the situation was an ‘absolute joke’, adding: ‘A friend said to me ”you look like a bunch of c***s”. It was hard to argue.’
Another MP said of Mr Johnson’s leadership: ‘I’m tired of it. He has to go. Clean sweep. It’s unsustainable’. A third said: ‘It confirms my suspicion of the sheer arrogance and hypocrisy of those orchestrating lockdown measures.’
Baroness Warsi, a former Cabinet minister turned critic, said ‘every minister, parliamentarian and staffer’ at the alleged party ‘must resign now’. And former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said his stance was not ‘remotely defensible’.
In full: Allegra Stratton’s tearful resignation statement
The British people have made immense sacrifices in the battle against COVID-19.
I now fear that my comments in the leaked video on 20 of December last year have now become a distraction in that fight.
My remarks seemed to make light of the rules.
Rules that people were doing everything to obey. That was never my intention.
I will regret those remarks for the rest of my days and now for my profound apologies to all of you at home.
Working in government is an immense privilege. I tried to do right by you all. To behave with civility and decency and act to the high standards you expect of No10.
I will always be proud of what was achieved at COP26 in Glasgow and the progress made on coal, cars, cash and trees.
This country and the PMs leadership on climate change and nature will make a lasting difference to the whole world.
It has been an honour to play a part in that.
I understand the anger and frustration that people feel.
To all of you who lost loved ones, who endured intolerable loneliness, and who struggled with your businesses, I am truly sorry.
This afternoon I am offering my resignation to the Prime Minister.
Mr Johnson had hoped to grab the news agenda this week with a slew of crime measures, after weeks of torrid sleaze headlines.
But Health Secretary Sajid Javid pulled out out of interviews this morning following the emergence of the footage showing the PM’s former press secretary Allegra Stratton laughing about the lockdown-busting gathering last year.
As bereaved families branded the revelations a ‘bullet to the chest’, Scotland Yard is set to probe the exchanges which took place during a rehearsal for a media briefing.
Attorney General Suella Braverman was seen going into the building this morning, although it is not clear whether her visit was related. Mr Javid has also entered, ignoring questions about why he ducked interviews.
Extraordinarily, there are signs that the government is preparing to announce a move to ‘Plan B’ Covid restrictions to combat the Omicron strain – including blanket orders to work from home and more mask-wearing.
Such a shift had not been expected before the end of this week, and Mr Johnson immediately faced accusations he is deploying the ‘dead cat’ tactic – making a big newsworthy announcement in order to distract attention from another crisis.
Tory MP William Wragg said in the House: ‘Covid passes will not increase uptake of the vaccine but will create a segregated society.
‘Is my Right Honourable Friend the PM aware that very few will be convinced by this diversionary tactic?’
Mr Johnson replied: ‘No decisions will be taken without consulting the Cabinet.’
Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said he had not yet been notified that there will be a ministerial statement on Covid later. ‘It must be here first,’ Sir Lindsay warned.
In a move that could bounce No10 into activating its winter ‘Plan B’, SAGE has said it is ‘highly likely’ Omicron will make up the majority of British infections within ‘a few weeks’ and put ‘unsustainable pressure’ on the NHS.
Leaked minutes from SAGE’s emergency meeting today showed that the group also expect the highly-evolved strain to trigger several thousand admissions per day at a peak in January if it is allowed to spread unchecked.
The ‘Covid O’ Cabinet committee has met for crunch talks this afternoon and Mr Johnson is expected to sign off on plans for a blanket order to work from home where possible, more mask-wearing, vaccine passports and stricter isolation rules for close contacts of infected people either today or tomorrow.
That is despite increasingly hostility on the premier’s own parliamentary benches, with many MPs sceptical about a creeep back towards lockdown.
There is growing pressure on the Government to tighten restrictions after the total number of British Omicron cases rose to 568 today, with the highly evolved variant now in every country in the UK and almost every region of England.
Experts warn thousands of cases are flying under the radar because not all samples are analysed for variants and Omicron is estimated to be doubling every two or three days — much faster than when Delta exploded on the scene.
There are currently 757 daily hospital admissions across the UK and 680 in England. SAGE members had previously suggested that 1,200 daily admissions would be the trigger point for more restrictions with Delta.
Not a single one of the UK’s confirmed Omicron cases has been hospitalised with the virus but it takes several weeks to fall seriously unwell and there are early indications in South Africa that it might cause milder illness than past variants.
But even if the new strain is milder, experts warn that if it can infect significantly more people than Delta, it will cause bigger surges in hospital admissions than its predecessor.
In the leaked SAGE minutes, seen by the BBC, the group said: ‘With the speed of growth seen, decision makers will need to consider response measures urgently to reduce transmission if the aim is to reduce the likelihood of unsustainable pressure on the NHS.’
The scientists insisted that tightening restrictions will give the UK precious time to delay the wave and get more boosters into arms. They said they expect jabs to hold up against severe disease and death.
Earlier, Professor Neil Ferguson, a key SAGE member whose modelling prompted the initial lockdown last spring, today admitted that another full-blown shutdown could be on the cards to tackle Omicron.
He said light measures like WFH ‘wouldn’t stop it but it could slow it down’ and extend the doubling time to five or six days. ‘That doesn’t seem like a lot, but it actually is potentially a lot in terms of allowing us to characterise this virus better and boost population immunity,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
BBC Breakfast took the extraordinary step of empty-chairing Mr Javid this morning as vaccines minister Maggie Throup also pulled out of her planned round of regional television interviews. On ITV’s Good Morning Britain, host Susanna Reid swiped that the government was ‘gaslighting’ by pretending there is not any need to answer questions.
Education department chief admits she could be disciplined over drinks bash last Christman
A Whitehall party instigated by former education secretary Gavin Williamson and held in the lead-up to Christmas last year will form part of the inquiry into a gathering in Number 10, a top civil servant has said.
Susan Acland-Hood, permanent secretary at the Department for Education (DfE), admitted that she attended the gathering, where there were drinks and food, on December 10 last year in the department’s canteen.
She told MPs that if any DfE staff, including herself, were found to have broken the rules then they would face disciplinary action.
Her comments came after the DfE admitted it held a social gathering of staff ahead of Christmas in contravention to coronavirus social-distancing rules.
The footage of Ms Stratton was filmed on December 22 last year – four days after the alleged ‘boozy’ party and when London was under strict Tier 3 coronavirus curbs. The revelation follows a week of tortured denials from No 10 that there was a ‘party’ – even though dozens of staff allegedly exchanged ‘secret Santa’ gifts and drank past midnight at an event said to have included party games.
In the Commons, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford demanded Mr Johnson’s resignation, saying he ‘can no longer lead on the most pressing issue facing these islands’.
Mr Blackford said: ‘Trust and leadership is a matter of life and death. Downing Street wilfully broke the rules and mocked the sacrifices we have all made, shattering the public trust. The Prime Minister is responsible for losing the trust of the people. He can no longer lead on the most pressing issue facing these islands.
‘The Prime Minister has a duty, the only right and moral choice left to him: it is for his resignation. When can we expect it?’
But Mr Johnson replied: ‘The party opposite and indeed the other party opposite are going to continue to play politics. I am going to get on with the job.’
Scottish Tory leader Mr Ross told STV News Mr Johnson had ‘serious questions to answer on this issue’.
He said he trusted the PM, but added: ‘When he made statements last week they seem to be very different to what he is saying this week and the video evidence that has emerged.
‘That is a really serious issue for him, for his Government and for everyone who was involved in whatever happened in Downing Street last December.
Ms Stratton (left today) and Ed Oldfield (right), No10’s head of digital, were seen in the footage rehearsing a question and answer session in the No9 briefing room
Pfizer’s booster vaccine ‘CAN beat Omicron’
Pfizer’s Covid booster vaccine can beat Omicron, the drug firm claimed today as it admitted two doses may not be enough to stop people getting infected with the mutant strain but should still drastically slash hospitalisation rates.
The vaccine manufacturer argued three injections provide a ‘more robust’ defence against the variant, which has sown chaos since it was first identified in South Africa last month.
A third jab triggers a similar antibody response against Omicron as two doses against previous strains of Covid, according to preliminary laboratory tests. It also ‘strongly increases’ T cell levels, offering the immune system an extra boost to protect against severe disease.
But Pfizer also insisted that two doses should still be enough to slash rates of hospitalisations and deaths, in the event of fresh waves triggered by the super-mutant strain.
And millions of doses of a new version of its vaccine tailored to the mutant strain — which has already been developed — can be ready by March if the current crop of jabs do not provide enough protection against Omicron. Pfizer’s boss said they will know within weeks if it is needed and all of its production can be switched to the new vaccine.
It comes as two separate studies released today show that vaccines appear to work better than expected against Omicron, which is quickly spreading in Britain and has left No10 on the brink of resorting to its ‘Plan B’ to save the NHS from being overwhelmed this winter.
‘The public deserve answers because the public have sacrificed so much during this pandemic and they view this extremely dimly. They are understandably angry about what has happened and the fact that this has been in some ways hidden since last year.’
Mr Ross told BBC Scotland: ‘If the prime minister knew about this party last December, knew about this party last week, and was still denying it, then that is the most serious allegation.
‘There is absolutely no way you can mislead parliament and think you could get off with that.’
New plans for Britons to work from home and for offices to be closed are being drawn up by the Government to curb a surge in Omicron variant case numbers over the festive period,
Mr Johnson is on the verge of pushing the button on ‘Plan B’ measures, with a meeting of the Covid O Cabinet sub-committee happening this afternoon.
Some backbenchers had suggested that Mr Johnson’s could be forced to resign unless he ‘holds his hands up’ because of the video, which calls into question his insistence that all the rules had been followed over the No10 Christmas bash.
Former minister Tracey Crouch, MP for Chatham and Aylesford, demanded an apology.
‘I am fuming! My constituents have every right to be angry,’ she told Kent Online.
‘Their memories of lost loved ones are traumatised knowing that they died alone, first and last Christmases passed by, and many spent what is usually a special day by themselves.
‘I am not even going to begin to justify or defend a party in Downing Street. We all deserve a fulsome explanation and apology and swiftly.’
Conservative Sir Roger Gale said today that the situation bore ‘all the hallmarks of another ‘Barnard Castle’ moment’ – a reference to the Prime Minister’s former aide driving 260 miles during strict lockdown conditions last year.
He said: ‘This is like something out of The Thick Of It. If you wrote it, people wouldn’t believe it. Boris Johnson has always been his own man and done his own thing in his own way. I think he has a certain amount of explaining to do. This is no laughing matter. I want PM to come to the dispatch box and say there either was a party or wasn’t. There has to be an explanation by lunchtime today’.
Even Ant and Dec got in on the act last night, mocking Boris Johnson over the Downing Street Christmas party on I’m a Celebrity 2021 and saying: ‘Evening Prime Minister… for now.’
Police are yet to launch a criminal investigation – but will be reviewing the footage before a decision is taken. It is understood that a senior officer looking at the matter will now consider the contents of the video in the coming days.
‘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’, a Met spokesman said. ‘It is our policy not to routinely investigate retrospective breaches of the Covid-19 regulations, however the footage will form part of our considerations’.
In the bombshell video a No 10 aide asks a question about ‘a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night’, to which Allegra Stratton laughed and replied: ‘I went home.’ Downing Stree
The clip, discovered by ITV news shows Allegra Stratton, then the PM’s press secretary, and Ed Oldfield, No10’s head of digital, rehearsing a question and answer session in the No9 briefing room.
On ITV’s Good Morning Britain, host Susanna Reid swiped that the government was ‘gaslighting’ by pretending there is not any need to answer questions
Attorney General Suella Braverman was seen going into No10 this morning, although it is not clear whether her visit is related. Mr Javid has also entered, ignoring questions about why he ducked interviews
Baroness Warsi, a former Cabinet minister turned critic, said ‘every minister, parliamentarian and staffer’ at the alleged party ‘must resign now’
The leaked video of No10 staff rehearsing for a press conference that detonated the Christmas party row
Downing Street’s had hoped that the row over the alleged lockdown-busting Christmas party a year ago was fading away.
But the situation escalated dramatically last night when ITV News was leaked footage from a mock press conference.
It shows the PM’s aides putting his then-press secretary Allegra Stratton through her paces. She had been preparing to start hosting televised briefings for journalists weeks later – although that idea was embarrassingly shelved.
And damagingly one of the questions thrown at her during the session on December 22 referenced the ‘party’ four days earlier.
Ed Oldfield (PM’s special adviser): ‘I’ve just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night, do you recognise those reports?’
Allegra Stratton: ‘I went home (laughs)… hold on, hold on, erm, err…’
Ed Oldfield: ‘Would the Prime Minister condone having a Christmas party?’
Allegra Stratton: ‘(laughs) What’s the answer?’
Ed Oldfield: ‘I don’t know!’
Downing Street Employee (unidentified): ‘It wasn’t a party… it was cheese and wine.’
Allegra Stratton: ‘Is cheese and wine alright? It was a business meeting.’
Downing Street Employee: ‘No! … was joking!’
Allegra Stratton: ‘(laughs) This is recorded. This fictional party was a business meeting… (laughs) and it was not socially distanced. Umm one more and then we’ll… one more. Anybody have any questions today?’
BBC Radio 4’s Today programme said Mr Javid was scheduled to feature this morning, but cancelled after the footage emerged.
Presenter Nick Robinson said: ‘We were expecting to speak to the Health Secretary Sajid Javid this morning but we were told just a few minutes after that video emerged that no minister would be available to speak on the programme today.’ Mr Javid was also due on outlets such as BBC1, Sky News and Times Radio.
The damning clip, which was leaked to ITV News, shows Ms Stratton and aides joking about cheese and wine and suggesting the ‘fictional’ event was ‘not socially distanced’. Miss Stratton, who is still on the No 10 payroll earning £125,000 a year, was practising for planned TV media briefings, which were later axed.
At the time of the alleged event, on December 18, Christmas parties were outlawed – on pain of £10,000 fines – and many families were even barred from visiting dying loved ones. Mixing indoors with people from other households was banned in the capital.
No 10 was still insisting last night that there had been ‘no Christmas party’ and that coronavirus rules were followed at all times. But ministers were aghast at the crass video, with one privately describing it as ‘appalling’.
Insiders fear the release of the toxic footage could unleash a wave of public anger, similar to the fury over the trip to Barnard Castle by Dominic Cummings at the height of the first lockdown.
A Downing Street insider acknowledged the video was a ‘disaster’, adding: ‘No 10 aides laugh at their party as thousands cry for their dead.’
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss insisted ‘we do follow the rules on Covid’ as she was questioned about the alleged party at a Chatham House event.
She said: ‘As to alleged events in Number 10, I don’t know the detail of what happened.
‘I know that the Prime Minister’s spokesman answered those questions in detail yesterday and I am sure there will be further discussion of that issue.’
Asked why citizens should trust an administration that did not follow the rules, she added: ‘We do follow the rules on Covid.’
But ‘I’m not aware of the precise circumstances and I know the Prime Minister’s spokesman has addressed that issue’.
One Tory MP told MailOnline that most colleagues were ‘waiting to see what the PM says at PMQs’.
‘He needs to come out today and just be straightforward and say what happened. Not answering won’t work. Maybe they are planning to fire some people.’
The backbencher pointed out that future inquiries will uncover details anyway. ‘If you have done something wrong, go to parliament and explain it. You have much more chance of getting away with it.
‘The cover-up is the thing that gets you. So you have got to be brutally honest.’
‘They won’t be the only people to have an illegal party at that time, but you don’t have an illegal party in No10 do you?’
The MP also suggested that Mr Cummings and his allies might have been involved in leaking the video. ‘It has to be someone senior. Who had them and kept them this long? It does feel like a Cummings operation,’ they said.
Becky Kummer, of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said: ‘There are simply no words to describe how upsetting and shameful it is to hear Boris Johnson’s team laughing about breaking the rules they had made, while others followed them and could only say goodbye to their loved ones through a screen. It’s the behaviour of people who think they’re above us.’
The clip, obtained by ITV news, shows Ms Stratton, then the PM’s press secretary, and Ed Oldfield, No10’s head of digital, rehearsing a question and answer session in the No9 briefing room.
In it Oldfield asks a question about ‘a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night’, to which Ms Stratton laughs and replies: ‘I went home.’
When he asks if the Prime Minister would condone such a party, Ms Stratton appears unsure how to respond and asks the room: ‘What’s the answer?’
What were the rules on December 18 last year?
With just days to go until Christmas 2020, Covid restrictions were ramped up as the situation on infections and hospitalisations ‘deteriorated’.
London, and Downing St at its centre, were moved into a Tier 3 set of restrictions to fight the ‘exponentially increasing’ Covid case rate.
The following rules were put into force on December 17 for London following a review of tiers:
– No mixing of households indoors, or most outdoor places, apart from support bubbles;
– A maximum of six people in some outdoor public spaces (e.g. parks, public gardens);
– Events should not take place;
– People should avoid travelling outside their area, other than where necessary such as for work or education. Reduce the number of journeys where possible;
– Hospitality is closed, with the exception of sales by takeaway, drive-through or delivery;
– Retail, indoor leisure and personal care are allowed to remain open.
There was to be the saving grace of a five-day relaxation period over Christmas, but this was scrapped just days later after the situation continued to deteriorate.
A third voice can be heard saying ‘it wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine’, before Ms Stratton added: ‘It was a business meeting … this fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced.’
The footage was released after Boris Johnson had earlier refused to answer questions about the gathering, with questions raised over whether it breached social distancing rules in place at the time.
The Metropolitan Police has said it was aware of the footage and is considering an investigation into the alleged breaches of Covid-19 regulations in government buildings last December.
Asked about it on a visit to a London prison yesterday, Mr Johnson would only say that all the rules had been followed at the time. Other ministers have refused to confirm if a party happened or not.
Sir Keir Starmer responded to the footage of Downing St aides joking about the party by saying that Boris Johnson needed to ‘come clean and apologise’.
The Labour leader said: ‘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.’
In response to the footage, a Downing Street spokesman said: ‘There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times.’
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 ditched.
Parties were banned under Covid restrictions at the time. Mr Johnson has not confirmed or denied reports that members of his Downing Street team staged a party on December 18 last year when London was under Tier 3 restrictions but he has insisted that no rules were broken.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab reignited the party row yesterday after he said it would have been a clear breach of Covid rules at the time if Mr Johnson’s staff held a party in Number 10 in the run-up to last Christmas.
The PM yesterday insisted no rules were broken, after the Times reported that staff wore festive jumpers and were asked to bring ‘secret Santa’ gifts.
They were reported to have brought alcohol and food to the event said to have been attended by dozens of colleagues
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman has insisted ‘there was not a party’ but the Prime Minister declined to characterise the event during a visit to a prison in London on Tuesday.
‘What I can tell you is that all the guidelines were observed, continue to be observed,’ he told reporters.
Asked if he investigated personally, Mr Johnson said: ‘I am satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times.’
The spokesman later added that ‘our position has not changed’ following Mr Johnson’s comments.
Several families who lost loved ones over the Christmas period last year vented their fury at the latest developments in shambolic party saga, calling it a ‘betrayal’ of families who followed the rules.
Louisa Backway, whose father died of prostrate cancer after being unable to spend his last Christmas with his children and grandchildren, said she and her family are ‘furious’ after watching the video.
‘To know now that I sacrificed the last time that my dad could see his grandchildren, the last time that I could see my dad when he was well and himself, I can’t get that time back,’ she told ITV News.
‘A nest of singing birds’ and a string of green gaffes: Allegra Stratton, Boris’ short-lived press secretary
Allegra Stratton has frequently been the story since she was brought in by Boris Johnson – with a string of gaffes and a description of No10 as ‘a nest of singing birds’.
The former Guardian and BBC journalist became the Prime Minister’s press secretary in October last year, when the idea was to hold daily White House-style televised press conferences.
But the plans were dropped six months later and she was given a consolation role as the PM’s spokesman at the COP environmental summit.
Since then she has regularly raised eyebrows, urging people to join the Green Party and advising against rinsing plates before putting them in the dishwasher.
She was even forced to admit she drove a diesel car because the infrastructure was not in place to switch to an electric vehicle – even though her role was to promote the Government’s green agenda.
In February, Miss Stratton was forced to deny reports of strains with the Prime Minister’s wife Carrie, saying: ‘That’s completely mental. Crazy. I love Carrie and would do anything for her. When we all go out for a drink she is just the best fun imaginable. We are all a nest of singing birds.’
She worked as political correspondent for the Guardian until 2012 when she became political editor of BBC2’s Newsnight.
She was Rishi Sunak’s director of strategic communications from April to October 2020. Her joining the PM’s team caused a bust-up in Downing Street that led to the departure of communications director Lee Cain.
Referring to Mr Johsnson, Louisa added: ‘I probably can’t really say what I think about him right now, because I’m just, I’m just so angry, so angry. And I’m sure many people are.’
Trisha Greenhalgh, a Professor in Primary Care, took to social media to recall her heartbreak as her mother died on Christmas without any family by her side.
Addressing her tweet to Allegra Stratton, the Oxford lecturer wrote: ‘On the day you partied, my mother called me, breathless and feverish. I didn’t visit. On the day you joked, she was admitted to hospital. I didn’t visit.
‘As you celebrated Christmas, she died without family by her side. I promise you, it wasn’t funny.’
Ministers are yet to explain how the alleged bash complied with the rules in place at the time, despite coming under pressure since an initial report in the Daily Mirror.
The newspaper said two events took place in No 10 in the run-up to the festive season last year, including Mr Johnson giving a speech at a leaving do during November’s lockdown.
Cabinet colleagues swerved questions about the party over the past week.
Mr Javid faced questions on the issue as he faced his new Labour shadow, Wes Streeting, the MP for Ilford North, in the Commons yesterday.
‘Residents in Ilford are this week being prosecuted for holding an indoor gathering of two or more people on December 18, 2020, and rightly so,’ Mr Streeting said.
‘Isn’t it time that the Government comes clean about the event in Downing Street on that same day, admit they broken the rules and apologise? Or does the Secretary of State believe, as the PM appears to, that it is one for rule and another for everyone else?’
Mr Javid replied only to say: ‘In terms of rules, of course they should apply to everyone, regardless of who they are.’
Policing Minister Kit Malthouse had earlier insisted he had been ‘reassured that all of the regulations were complied with’ as he was grilled over the Downing Street Christmas party row.
Mr Malthouse clashed with BBC Radio 4 Today programme presenter Mishal Husain during a fiery interview as she asked him to make sense of the Government’s position.
The Tory frontbencher said he is ‘not an investigator’ but he had ‘asked the question was all the regulations compiled with’ and he had been ‘reassured they were’.
It came as Downing Street said it intends to hold a Christmas party for staff this year.
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said: ‘We haven’t confirmed any dates at the moment. I think there is an intention to have a Christmas party this year.’
Boris Johnson has insisted that Christmas parties should go ahead this month despite the return of some Covid restrictions to stop the spread of the Omicron variant.
Mr Raab, who is also the Justice Secretary, said he did not know the truth of the reports based on ‘unsubstantiated claims all on the basis of anonymous sources’, but if they turned out to be correct, then there would have been a breach.
He said that ‘if there was a formal party held, of course that is something that is clearly contrary to the guidance’.
Ms Husain asked Mr Malthouse this morning if a hypothetical gathering at the BBC last Christmas involving ‘several dozen of us, drinks, nibbles, party games’ would have been within the rules.
He replied: ‘Well, you are asking me a hypothetical question. I would have said to you you have to abide by the regulations.’
Mr Malthouse said he asked Number 10 ahead of his broadcast round of interviews this morning ‘whether regulations were complied with’ and ‘I was reassured that all of the regulations were complied with’.
Last week The Daily Mirror reported that two events took place in Number 10 last year in the run-up to the festive season.
The first was said to have been a leaving do for a senior aide held in November, when the country was in a second national lockdown, apparently attended by Mr Johnson who gave a speech.
The second was reportedly a staff party in December where, according to multiple reports, party games were played, food and drink were served, and the revelries went on past midnight.
The rules in place in the capital at the time explicitly banned work Christmas lunches and parties where it was ‘a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted’.