Boris Johnson 'worst possible leader at worst time', Keir Starmer says amid Christmas party row

ITV News Reporter Vincent McAviney reports on the latest allegations

Boris Johnson has been called "the worst possible leader at the worst possible time" after he was accused of breaking Covid rules by partaking in a Downing Street quiz last year.

Sir Keir Starmer delivered the blistering rebuke, but stopped short of calling for Mr Johnson to resign.

It comes as the Mirror published a picture it said was from December 15 2020 and claimed it shows the Prime Minister with two members of his top team as he hosted a Christmas quiz.

One staffer appears to be wearing tinsel, another a Christmas hat.

The paper said staff were invited to the virtual quiz, but on the day many decided to take part from Number 10 instead.

Downing Street has confirmed that Mr Johnson had “briefly” taken part “virtually” in the quiz. At that point last year, London was under Tier 2 Covid rules - banning social mixing indoors between households.

Furthermore, 459 people died from coronavirus on December 15.

'He can't provide the leadership we need at this crucial time'

In response to the quiz allegations, Sir Keir Starmer said the prime minister appeared to have broken the law, adding "he's the worst possible leader at the worst possible time".

"[The quiz] was three days before the Downing Street party which we've all been talking about, so it's very, very serious.

"The prime minister has lost the authority to lead. He's so weak, his party is so divided," Sir Keir said.

Within the Tory party, cabinet minister Nadhim Zahawi insisted Mr Johnson had respected lockdown rules, while MP Steve Baker differed in opinion.

Mr Baker told BBC Breakfast: “We can’t go on like this and the time to sort this out is not very much longer.

"I mean, the public should be able to have confidence that there’s one set of rules which apply equally to everybody.”

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi defends the PM against allegations of rule-breaking

Labour's deputy party leader Angela Rayner also weighed in on the matter, saying: “While the rules said that people shouldn’t have Christmas parties at work and Britons across the country were doing the right thing, Boris Johnson was instead happy to preside over a culture of disregard for the rules at the heart of government.

“Boris Johnson really believes it’s one rule for him, another for everyone else. He is a man unfit to lead this country.”

The latest claim follows a week of allegations surrounding Downing Street parties and gatherings alleged to have been held during lockdown restrictions last year.

The PM's former press secretary resigned earlier in the week following leaked footage, obtained by ITV News, showing her and other senior Number 10 staff joking about holding a Christmas party, just four days after the event is alleged to have taken place.

It has since emerged Mr Johnson's most senior communications adviser made a ​thank you ​speech and handed out awards at that alleged Downing Street party on December 18, ITV News has been told.

The event is now the subject of an internal investigation by the Cabinet Office - as are two other gatherings. One reportedly attended by the PM in 10 Downing Street on November 27 and another at the Department for Education on December 10.

The Prime Minister has apologised for the video released by ITV News showing his staff laughing - but has said he's been "repeatedly reassured" there was no party.

Responding to the photograph published by The Mirror, a Number 10 spokesperson said: "This was a virtual quiz. Downing Street staff were often required to be in the office to work on the pandemic response so those who were in the office for work may have attended virtually from their desks.

"The prime minister briefly took part virtually in a quiz to thank staff for their hard work throughout the year."