David Lammy has called on Boris Johnson to apologise and explain what happened after leaked footage revealed political advisers joking about a Covid rule-breaking party held in Downing Street in the run-up to Christmas 2020.
Reacting to a video leaked to ITV News, in which Allegra Stratton remarked in a mock press conference that the gathering “was not socially distanced”, the Shadow Foreign Secretary reminded BBC viewers that “this virus has cost lives”.
Stratton, Johnson’s then spokesperson is seen in the footage being asked by a political adviser: “I’ve just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night — do you recognise those reports?”
She said: “I went home.” Asked if Johnson would condone a party, she said: “What’s the answer?” Someone in the room joked that it “wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine”. Stratton replied: “Is cheese and wine all right? It was a business meeting… this fictional party was a business meeting… it was not socially distanced.”
Since The Mirror initially broke the story last week, revealing allegations of a gathering held on December 18th 2020, ministers have repeatedly insisted that a rule-breaking Christmas party did not take place in Downing Street.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast this morning, Lammy demanded “an apology, the facts, what actually happened”, with the Shadow Foreign Secretary saying that the Prime Minister should be “getting real and getting serious” after the leak.
Put to him that there may have been a loophole that would have allowed the gatherings, he said: “Oh please, this was clearly more than a gathering of six. Drinks and cheese and canapés. This clearly was not a business meeting.
“This isn’t about wiggling out of the rules, when many people were arrested by the police for breaching the rules. This is about coming clean, admitting what you’ve done: how many people were there, how the rules were breached.
“Let’s get serious about the rules that we make. We cannot live in a society where there is one rule for you and another for others.”
The Department for Education confirmed this morning that the then Education Secretary Gavin Williamson also held a party last year, with “drinks and canapés” in the departmental cafe. A spokesperson said today: “We accept it would have been better not to have gathered in this way at that particular time.”
EXCLUSIVE: Video obtained by ITV News shows Downing Street staff joking about a Christmas party on 18th December last year.
No 10 has spent the past week denying any rules were broken. This new evidence calls that into question. pic.twitter.com/nKYK0tG0dQ
— Paul Brand (@PaulBrandITV) December 7, 2021
According to the reports in The Mirror last week, between 40 and 50 people attended two events in Downing Street where they were crammed together “cheek by jowl” in what one source described as a “Covid nightmare”.
The story emerged soon after government public health expert Dr Jenny Harries advised that people should cut down on socialising this Christmas as it emerged that the new Omicron variant had been spreading across the country.
Following the November lockdown last year, each area across the country were placed by the government into varying ‘tiers’, of which there were initially three, determining what people were and were not allowed to do.
The Prime Minister placed London, which had the highest Covid case rates in the country, into tier three on December 16th. This meant people were banned from all indoor mixing except within their household bubbles.
According to the rules in place at the time, the only legally permissible way under the regulations for either of the reported Downing Street gatherings to have taken place was if it was “reasonably necessary for work”.
One source told The Mirror that there were “many social gatherings” in No 10 in the run-up to Christmas last year while the public faced restrictions, suggesting that there were “always parties” in the flat Johnson shares with wife.
Johnson, during Prime Minister’s Questions last week, said that no Covid rules were broken but did not deny that the party had taken place on December 18th. Keir Starmer told parliament that “both of those things can’t be true”.