Downing Street staff shown joking in leaked recording about Christmas party they later denied
Watch the full exchange between Ed Oldfield and Allegra Stratton in the mock televised press briefing
Senior Downing Street staff joked about holding a Christmas party in Number 10 just four days after the event is alleged to have taken place last December, a recording leaked to ITV News has revealed.
Staff can be heard laughing and making references to “cheese and wine”, while Boris Johnson’s then spokesperson Allegra Stratton remarked there was “definitely no social distancing.”
The recording is of a rehearsal on December 22 for Downing Street's proposed daily TV media briefings, which Ms Stratton was set to front before they were later abandoned.
Staff in the 9 Downing Street press room pose mock questions to help with her preparation.
Listen to our coronavirus podcast for the inside track on how ITV News obtained the leaked video and broke the story
Ed Oldfield, adviser to the prime minister, 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”, replies Ms Stratton, laughing, before composing herself, telling colleagues to "hold on", as she appears to consider what her answer should be.
“Umm, errr, ahhhh,” are the noises she makes as she looks around the room, apparently stuck for words.
Following a long pause, Mr Oldfield asks: “Would the prime minister condone having a Christmas party?”
Ms Stratton laughs, looking down, before responding, “what’s the answer?”
Staff then attempt to help the PM’s former spokesperson formulate a response.
“It wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine”, replies one.
“Is cheese and wine alright?” Ms Stratton asks. At that point the staff member who made the cheese and wine comment seems to say "No... joking".
Ms Stratton adds “it was a business meeting”, as she laughs again.
She then warns her colleagues, “this is recorded” and states through more laughter, “this fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced.”
One source who was aware of the party in Downing Street told ITV News: "We all know someone who died from Covid and after seeing this all in the papers I couldn't not say anything. I'm so angry about it all, the way it is being denied."
For the past week the PM, senior ministers and Number 10 have denied that any rules were broken on December 18 2020, when it is alleged that a “boozy” Christmas party took place in Downing Street with initial reports suggesting 40-50 people in attendance. It is not suggested that the prime minister attended the event.
But London was under Tier 3 restrictions at the time, meaning social events including parties were banned.
The law clearly 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”.
The government’s own guidance made clear that people “must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity”.
And police were actively looking for Covid rule breakers at that time.
London’s Metropolitan Police shut down a wedding attended by “nearly 40 people” on December 17, just one day before the alleged Downing Street party.
“Holding large gatherings could be the difference between life and death for someone else,” the force said in a tweet.
“London is in Tier 3. You must not mix inside with anyone, who is not in your household or support bubble.”
The Met Police said in a statement to ITV News about the leaked video: "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."
If the alleged event was a "business meeting", as Ms Stratton says in the leaked recording, it could still have broken the rules.
The official government guidance said work meetings should "use remote working tools to avoid in-person meetings" and only "absolutely necessary" participants should attend in person.
In-person business meeting were allowed to be attended by a maximum 30 people, reports say there were between 40 and 50 people.
In any case, the guidance says social distancing should be observed in all physical meetings - Ms Stratton in the recording said there was “definitely no social distancing" at the event.
The day after No10’s alleged party, much of England was moved into even tighter restrictions and for millions of people Christmas was cancelled altogether.
On Wednesday Prime Minister Johnson did not deny a party had taken place when asked, but said: "I am satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times."
A string of ministers have also denied that there was any wrongdoing, including Health Secretary Sajid Javid who told ITV News he is “absolutely confident” that all rules were followed at all times in Number 10.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab on Sunday insisted all guidance was followed but accepted that had a party taken place it would have been “clearly contrary to the guidance”.
On Monday the prime minister’s spokesperson hardened the response, denying there had been any party at all.
In response to ITV News' story Downing Street said: "There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times."
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the government are "treating the public with contempt", describing the leaked video as "shameful" and said the prime minister needs to apologise.
He said the leaked video showed that “the government broke the rules, they partied and now they are laughing about it”.
"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", Sir Keir added.
But the SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford went further and said Mr Johnson's “position is untenable and he must remove himself from office immediately”.
The MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, said: “This video is damning and leaves the Prime Minister with a lot to answer for.
“When every individual up and down the country was told to stay at home in order to protect the NHS, the Tories were instead having a Christmas party which, as a senior staff member has now confirmed, was ‘not socially distanced’.
“If this is true, then the Prime Minister’s position is untenable and he must remove himself from office immediately.”
While the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Ed Davey, said the public will be “furious” at the Prime Minister for “refusing to own up to” there being a No 10 festive party last year.
“Once again he shows it’s one rule for us and one rule for him, with the Conservatives continuing to take people for granted," Sir Ed said.
“Whilst millions cancelled plans and had to be alone at Christmas, unable to celebrate, or worse unable to say goodbye to a dying loved one – the Prime Minister was breaking his own rules to allow a boozy party in No 10.
“It’s clear that Boris Johnson has never believed the rules apply to him; around self isolation, mask wearing, or throwing social events.
“The Prime Minister must fess up and apologise both to the nation and the bereaved families still mourning loved ones they lost.”