A minister has said “I can absolutely assure you” that Downing Street staff adhered to Covid rules last Christmas, despite claims that they held parties which broke social distancing restrictions.
Business minister George Freeman said he could not get “drawn into who was or wasn’t in the room and who was drinking which cocktail” because he was not in Government at the time, but stressed that No 10 was confident the guidance had been followed.
It comes as pressure on No 10 has continued to mount over reports that work-related social gatherings were held in the lead-up to Christmas last year even though the public was forbidden from doing the same.
On Wednesday, at Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson did not deny the allegations, while No 10 repeatedly argued that “at all stages the rules have been followed” following the reports.
The Daily Mirror said the Prime Minister gave a speech at a packed leaving do for a senior aide last November when the country was in the midst of the second lockdown.
The newspaper said members of his No 10 team then held their own festive party days before Christmas, while London was under Tier 3 restrictions.
The Mirror on Thursday quoted a Downing Street “insider” who said there were often get-togethers in the evenings while the curbs on freedom were in place.
The source told the paper: “It was the only place you could get together and socialise. They happened most Fridays.”
Facing a grilling from broadcasters over the allegations, Mr Freeman insisted No 10 staff “followed the guidance”.
“Look, I wasn’t there. I’ve been in Government six weeks – I was nowhere near No 10 a year ago,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
“I can absolutely assure you that No 10 staff followed the guidance.
“I can’t tell you who was in the room or what happened – I wasn’t there – but I’ve checked before coming on and I’m told very clearly that the guidance was followed.”
Boris Johnson hosted multiple parties when the country was in lockdown over Christmas. Yesterday he claimed that was within the rules.
He is taking people for fools.
It’s one rule for the Conservatives and another for everyone else.
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) December 2, 2021
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson is “taking people for fools”.
He tweeted: “Boris Johnson hosted multiple parties when the country was in lockdown over Christmas.
“Yesterday he claimed that was within the rules. He is taking people for fools.
“It’s one rule for the Conservatives and another for everyone else.”
Meanwhile, despite Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey advising people to avoid “snogging under the mistletoe” this Christmas, Mr Freeman insisted the Government is not attempting to “tell everyone who they should kiss or where they should go”.