Police probe leaked video of Downing Street staff joking about lockdown Christmas party

 Police probe leaked video of Downing Street staff joking about lockdown Christmas party

The Metropolitan Police is reviewing footage in which senior Downing Street officials joked about holding a Christmas party during lockdown, four days after the alleged event took place.

Downing Street has repeatedly insisted there was no party on Friday, December 18 last year, amid a row over whether lockdown rules were breached. 

It has been reported that the alleged event involved party games, as well as food and drinks being served until past midnight, at a time when Tier 3 rules explicitly banned work Christmas lunches and parties where it was “a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted”.

In the leaked footage which emerged on Tuesday night, Allegra Stratton, who at the time was the Prime Minister’s press secretary, fields questions about reports of a Downing Street Christmas party.

The footage was reportedly filmed as part of preparations for televised briefings by Ms Stratton, although the briefings did not go ahead. 

The video prompted outrage among Conservative MPs and officials, who described it as a “disaster”, while several also called for the resignation of Downing Street figures who were responsible.

The Met said it was aware of and considering footage relating to alleged breaches of Covid-19 regulations in government buildings last December.

It is the latest in a series of rows to engulf the Government, which has been rocked in recent weeks by allegations of so-called “Tory sleaze” in the wake of the Owen Paterson case.

Separately, the Department for Education on Tuesday night admitted holding a gathering for staff last December in contravention of social distancing rules after the Daily Mirror reported that Gavin Williamson, then education secretary, gave a speech at the event. 

A DfE spokeswoman said: “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.”

‘It wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine’

At the rehearsal with Ms Stratton on December 22, Ed Oldfield, a special adviser to the Prime Minister, asked her: “I’ve just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night, do you recognise those reports?”

Ms Stratton replied “I went home”, before laughing and subsequently composing herself. 

Mr Oldfield then followed up with a supplementary question, asking: “Would the Prime Minister condone having a Christmas party?”

The footage shows Ms Stratton responding by asking “what’s the answer?” to which another person in the room can be heard saying: “It wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine.” 

Ms Stratton then asks: “Is cheese and wine alright?” After laughing again, Ms Stratton goes on to say: “This fictional party was a business meeting … and it was not socially distanced.”

Sir Keir Starmer: ‘Lying and laughing about it is shameful’

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, accused Boris Johnson on Tuesday night of lying about the event.

He said: “People across the country followed the rules even when that meant being separated from their families, locked 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 to laugh about those lies is shameful.

“The Prime Minister now needs to come clean, and apologise. It cannot be one rule for the Conservatives and another for everyone else.”

After the footage emerged last night, Charles Walker, the senior Tory MP, said: “The No 10 party means that any future lockdowns will be advisory, whatever the law says.” 

Asked during a visit on Tuesday whether a party had taken place, Mr Johnson responded: “What I can tell you is that all the guidelines were observed.”

It was then put to the Prime Minister whether he had personally investigated the gathering, to which he replied: “I have satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times.”

On Tuesday night, senior Tory MPs also called for resignations in Number 10, with one singling out Dan Rosenfield, Mr Johnson’s chief of staff.

Government sources outside of Downing Street reacted with fury to the video, which they claimed had tarnished the reputations of ministers who had been instructed to play down the controversy in the media. 

Several pointed out that ministers and officials across Whitehall had been forced to endure the backlash from industry leaders in their sector over Covid restrictions, on the orders of Number 10. 

Tobias Ellwood, the Tory chairman of the Commons defence committee, suggested that Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, should be asked to carry out an investigation into the alleged party and whether it broke Covid-19 rules.

Fury among senior Tories over gaffe

Others expressed anger that ministers and officials had been required to make personal sacrifices last December, like the public at large to comply with the rules, while at the same time staff in Downing Street had seemingly disregarded them.

 “We’re f—–. How could they be so stupid,” one said. 

 A former minister said: “It’s a disaster and some extreme humble pie needs to be eaten. I am absolutely furious because we’ve been trying to make the best of it on the basis of assurances and this kind of thing just can’t happen.”

Sir Roger Gale, a senior Tory MP, said the controversy carried echoes of the scandal that embroiled Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s former top aide.

“The No 10 party has all the hallmarks of another ‘Barnard Castle’ moment,” he said last night. “No 10 clearly has some serious questions to answer. Fast.”

The leaked footage was shot in the media room at No 9 Downing Street, which was refurbished at a cost of £2.6 million in preparation for the televised broadcasts before the plan was ditched.

One source who was aware of the party in Downing Street told ITV News, who obtained the footage: “We all know someone who died from Covid and after seeing this, I couldn’t not say anything. I’m so angry about it all, the way it is being denied.”

Downing Street denies rule breach

In response to the footage showing No 10 aides apparently joking about the Christmas party during the 2020 lockdown, a Downing Street spokesman said: “There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times.”

In another development, the Department of Education expressed regret over a staff gathering held on December 10 last year after reports Mr Williamson threw a party and delivered a short speech at the event, which took place while London was in Tier 2, which banned any social mixing between households.

A spokesman for the department said: “On December 10 2020 a gathering of colleagues who were already present at the office – and who had worked together throughout the pandemic, as they couldn’t work from home – took place in the DfE office building in London at a time when the city was subject to Tier 2 restrictions.

“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.”

Related post