Nadhim Zahawi apologises for DfE Christmas gathering but suggests it was not a party

  • Watch ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston on the difficulties Boris Johnson faces in the aftermath of No10 party allegations

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi apologised for a Christmas gathering the Department for Education held last year, but suggested it was not a party.

Told by ITV Political Editor Robert Peston, on the eponymous show, that Mr Zahawi's department confirmed there was a party on December 10 last year, the education secretary denied that his department did so.

He said: "What they said was that the people who were working here, because they couldn't obviously work from home, got together - no outside catering or outside people coming into the building - and gathered together.

"They had their own drinks and had some of their own food and gathered together downstairs in the canteen."

He added it was easier to social distance at the canteen at the time.

Mr Zahawi said: "These were people who were working together day in day out, you know, most days 19 hour days because they had to be here because obviously because of the national emergency but also because they can't work from home."

But Mr Zahawi acknowledged that in hindsight, the gathering, attended by his predecessor Gavin Williamson, was a "mistake" and an "error of judgment".

He said it would be something the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case would look into.

Mr Zahawi said he still had confidence in his permanent secretary Susan Acland-Hood, who apologised to him.

Former Education Secretary Gavin Williamson gave a short speech before officials and ministers enjoyed “drinks and canapes” at the evening event on December 10, the Department for Education said.

Watch the leaked video showing the exchange between Ed Oldfield and Allegra Stratton in a mock televised press briefing

Mr Zahawi's interview comes after a video released by ITV News showed Boris Johnson's former spokesperson Allegra Stratton and other Downing Street staff laughing about a Christmas party during a Tier 3 lockdown in London.

Ms Stratton has resigned as a government adviser.

Mr Johnson has since apologised but said he has been "repeatedly reassured" there was no party.

The prime minister has asked Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to investigate whether events in Number 10 last year broke strict lockdown rules.