Boris Johnson is under enormous pressure after leaked footage shows senior Number 10 staff joking about a party held in Downing Street last Christmas while social gatherings were banned.
The prime minister’s then press secretary Allegra Stratton and adviser Ed Oldfield, along with other aides, were filmed joking about a “fictional” party on 18 December last year when London was in Tier 3 restrictions banning social mixing indoors.
The aides joke about a "cheese and wine" event, with Stratton stating at one point, to much laughter: "This fictional party was a business meeting … and it was not socially distanced."
Previous reports claim the party involved a drinks, food and a pre-planned Secret Santa. The government has repeatedly denied a Christmas party took place and said in response to the clip that all COVID rules have been followed at all times.
The video, obtained by ITV News and believed to have taken on 22 December, shows Stratton laughing as she responds to questions about the gathering from her colleagues while taking part in a rehearsal for a televised press briefing and preparing answers to possible questions.
Labour MPs have dubbed the footage “stomach turning” and “utterly contemptible” while the Met Police has said it is "reviewing the footage".
Watch: PM insists no rules broken amid claims of ‘boozy’ Downing Street party
This is how the conversation went:
Ed Oldfield, special adviser to the PM who was pretending to be a journalist asking a question: “I’ve just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night. Do you recognise those reports?”
Allegra Stratton: “I went home. [Laughing]. Hold on, hold on... erm..."
Oldfield: Would the prime minister condone having a Christmas Party?
Stratton [laughing]: What's the answer?
Oldfield (laughing]: I don't know.
A third person in the room: "It wasn't a party. It was cheese and wine."
Stratton: "Is cheese and wine alright? It was a business meeting."
Unknown person: "No! Joking!"
Stratton: "This is recorded. This fictional party was a business meeting … and it was not socially distanced.”
What has the government said
Boris Johnson has not denied that a gathering took place in Downing Street just days before he plunged parts of the country into full lockdown, but he has repeated that no rules were broken.
The claims, originally reported by the Mirror, emerged last week and continue to cause a headache for the prime minister.
The newspaper said two events took place in No 10 in the run-up to the festive season last year, including Johnson giving a speech at a leaving do during November’s lockdown.
The other was said to be a staff party in December where party games were played, food and drinks were served, and revelries went on past midnight.
At the time, the Tier 3 rules explicitly banned work Christmas lunches and parties where it is “a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted”.
The PM has however stated that no COVID rules were broken, without providing an explanation as to how this could be possible.
The PM’s spokesperson has issued more strenuous denials on his behalf.
PM urged to 'come clean'
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called on the PM to “come clean” about what really happened.
He said: “People across the country followed the rules even when that mean being separated from their families, lockdown down and – tragically for many – unable to say goodbye to their loved ones.
“They had a right to expect that the government was doing the same.
“To lie and laugh about those lies is shameful.
“The prime minister needs to come clean, and apologise. It cannot be one rule for the Conservatives and another for everyone else.”
The SNP's Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, said Johnson should "remove himself from office immediately" of reports of a Christmas party turned out to be true.
Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said: "This is absolutely sickening. They are laughing at us all. It's one rule for them and another for the rest of us."
Labour MP Rosena Allin-Khan added: “Christmas celebrations were cancelled, families torn apart, loved ones died, goodbyes never had, hugs not felt, jobs lost.
“All of this, while Downing Street held parties, and laughed at the rest of us.”
Her Labour colleague Chi Onwurah called the video “utterly contemptible”.
Another Christmas party?
It comes as the Department for Education (DfE) admitted it held a social gathering of staff in the lead-up to Christmas in contravention to coronavirus social-distancing rules.
The Mirror reported that former education secretary Gavin Williamson threw a party and delivered a short speech at the event, which took place on December 10 while London was in Tier 2, which banned social mixing between households.
A DfE spokeswoman said: “The gathering was used to thank those staff for their efforts during the pandemic.
“Drinks and snacks were brought by those attending and no outside guests or supporting staff were invited or present.
“While this was work-related, looking back we accept it would have been better not to have gathered in this way at that particular time.”