Boris Johnson's denials of a Covid rule-breaking party in 10 Downing Street last Christmas have been thrown into serious doubt after ITV News revealed a leaked recording of his former press secretary discussing the alleged bash.
Allegra Stratton, who was hired to front daily Downing Street press briefings before the idea was scrapped, can be heard in the recording laughing with officials about the alleged event, where there was “definitely no social distancing.”
For days the prime minister, several senior ministers, and his official spokesman have insisted all rules were followed in Downing Street throughout the coronavirus pandemic but those claims may become harder to maintain.
Here is a timeline of events, Covid laws, guidance and the government’s subsequent denials.
December 14, 2020: - Conservative aides threw a party at the Westminster headquarters during coronavirus restrictions last December, which has been admitted by the party. The event, organised by Shaun Bailey’s mayoral campaign, took place on December 14 while the capital was in Tier 2 restrictions - when no mixing of households indoors was allowed apart from support bubbles. A Conservative party spokesperson confirmed the event took place, but did not say whether last year's London mayoral candidate was there.
December 16, 2020: - London entered Tier 3 restrictions, under which the law clearly stated: “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”- The government’s Christmas period guidance issued at the time said: “You must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity”
December 17: - The Metropolitan Police shut down a wedding attended by “nearly 40 people”- The force issued a tweet warning people that “holding large gatherings could be the difference between life and death for someone else.” It added: “London is in Tier 3. You must not mix inside with anyone, who is not in your household or support bubble”
December 18:A “boozy” party allegedly takes place in Number 10 Downing Street, as reported by the Daily Mirror, with around 40 people reportedly attending.
December 20:Even tighter restrictions were enforced in England and swathes of the south, including London, were thrust into Tier 4 restrictions. It meant plans to allow limited socialising at Christmas had been cancelled for millions of people
December 22:- A press briefing rehearsal was held, in which the PM’s then spokesperson Allegra Stratton was asked about a party in Downing Street last Friday, which would be December 18, the day the party is alleged to have taken place- Ms Stratton jokes with those in the room that she “went home” and the party "wasn’t socially distanced"
November 30, 2021:- The Daily Mirror published a story with the headline: “Boris Johnson 'broke Covid lockdown rules' with Downing Street parties at Xmas”- The article claimed that not only was there a party in Number 10 on December 18, but that Mr Johnson gave a speech at what the paper said was a “packed” staff member’s leaving do on November 27, while England was in its second lockdown.- In response to the allegations reported in The Mirror, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: “Covid rules have been followed at all times”.- The story lead to numerous denials that any Covid rules had been broken, however those speaking for the government did not deny that a party had taken place
December 1:- Mr Johnson was grilled about the alleged event at PMQs by Keir Starmer- The PM declined on three occasions to explicitly deny a party had taken place but told MPs “all guidance was followed completely”.- Sir Keir said the PM “does not deny there was a Downing Street Christmas party last year. He says no rules were broken. Both of those things can't be true”.
December 2:- The week that followed saw almost daily denials from ministers who repeatedly told journalists they had been assured by Number 10 that no rules had been broken- Science minister George Freeman told ITV News he “wasn’t there” and has “no idea” about the party, but added: “What I can tell you is the guidance was followed.”- That evening Vaccines Minister Maggie Throup told BBC’s Question Time claims of a party were “rumour and hearsay”. She added: “I am not aware of the Christmas party. Number 10 is a workplace and I've been reassured that all guidance was carefully followed.”- Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner writes to the UK's top civil serval Simon Case whether he will call in the Metropolitan Police to investigate alleged party
December 3:Tory Party Chairman Oliver Dowden told ITV News: “I don’t know the details of what happened but the prime minister has been very clear that the rules were obeyed at all times”.
December 4:The Met Police said it is “considering” complaints it had received by two Labour MPs about the reported party
December 5:Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab insisted to the BBC that rules were not broken, but he acknowledged that "if anyone held a party contrary to the rules, of course that's the wrong thing to do". Pressed further, Mr Raab added: "If something unsubstantiated from anonymous sources actually materialised then of course it would be wrong"
December 6:- Policing Minister Kit Malthouse told ITV News he had “asked whether rules and regulations were followed, whether there was an event, and was reassured by Number 10 that everything was done in order with regulations”.- Later that day the Liverpool Echo published a story in which the PM was asked about the alleged party. “All I can say is; no covid rules were broken and there you go,” he said- Then, in a Downing Street briefing with journalists that same day, the party was denied for the first time- A spokesperson for the PM said: “There was not a party and the Covid rules were followed at all times.” Asked how they could be sure the rules were not broken, he replied: “It’s simply the case that guidance has been followed at all times.” Pressed how they established that, the spokesman added: “I don’t need to get into the positions we’ve taken, it’s simply just a statement of fact.”
December 7:- Ahead of ITV News publishing its story, the PM told broadcasters: “I am satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times.” -After the story broke, Downing Street responded by saying: "There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times."
December 8: - Boris Johnson opened Prime Minister's Questions by apologising, saying he was "furious" when he saw the leaked recording and that he has launched an investigation into the footage. He did not, however, admit that the party happened.
December 9: - Boris Johnson’s former press secretary Allegra Stratton resigned from government. Speaking through tears, Ms Stratton gave a statement to broadcasters saying she would "regret those remarks for the rest of my days", as she confirmed she had quit as an adviser to the prime minister.