Boris Johnson is expected to face questions over whether he has told the truth about an alleged lockdown-busting Christmas party in No 10 after leaked footage showed his aides joking about a festive gathering.
Johnson will be under the spotlight at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday (8 December), with his opposite number likely to grill him for a second week running about what happened in Downing Street on 18 December last year.
Sir Keir Starmer said the leaked video of senior aides laughing about a “cheese and wine” evening indicates that the Prime Minister has “not been straight” about claims of a festive get-together, with some reports claiming it featured alcohol and “secret Santa” present-giving.
Johnson could even face uncomfortable questions from his own backbenches, with veteran Conservative Sir Roger Gale declaring that the situation bore “all the hallmarks of another ‘Barnard Castle’ moment” – a reference to the Prime Minister’s former aide Dominic Cummings driving 260 miles during strict lockdown conditions in 2020.
“No 10 clearly has some serious questions to answer. Fast,” tweeted the North Thanet MP.
Here is everything you need to know about it.
What happens in the video?
In footage obtained by ITV News, the Prime Minister’s then press secretary Allegra Stratton and adviser Ed Oldfield, along with other aides, were filmed joking about a “fictional” Downing Street party in December 2020.
Stratton is seen answering questions at a mock press conference on 22 December about a party the previous Friday – the date of the alleged Covid rule-breaking gathering - which is said to have been attended by dozens of colleagues while social mixing indoors was banned in London under Tier 3 restrictions.
Oldfield can be heard asking Stratton: “I’ve just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night, do you recognise those reports?”
Stratton replies “I went home” before appearing to consider what the correct answer should be.
During the rehearsal, filmed as part of a subsequently-abandoned plan for Stratton to lead televised press briefings, one aide is heard saying: “It wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine.”
“Is cheese and wine all right? It was a business meeting,” Stratton replies, to laughter in the room.
Stratton then notes “this is recorded”, adding: “This fictional party was a business meeting... and it was not socially distanced.”
Why are people upset?
The latest Downing Street Christmas party development has been called a “bullet to the chest” of families who have lost loved ones during the pandemic.
Dr Saleyha Ahsan, from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, told BBC Breakfast the saga was “an example of how the Government have run this from the start: One rule for them and the rest of us have to adhere to different rules.”
At the time of the video, the Tier 3 rules - which covered London and Downing Street - explicitly banned work Christmas lunches and parties where it is “a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted”.
One NHS England staffer said she is “incandescent” with anger at the video.
The frontline healthcare worker, who wished to remain anonymous, told the PA news agency she was working with Covid-19 patients that month, when her mother was admitted to her hospital following a fall.
Due to health protocols the woman was unable to visit her mother, who caught Covid-19 in the hospital and later died from bacterial pneumonia.
“To say I’m angry… I’m incandescent. It’s the disrespect, it’s the one rule for us and another rule for them, that’s what’s the worst,” the NHS worker said.
“I see Allegra Stratton laughing up there and I feel sick, I feel disrespected, (like) I’ve been taken for a mug. I can’t put enough words together right now as to how appalling that behaviour is. It should have consequences.”
What could happen?
The Metropolitan Police has confirmed officers are reviewing the leaked video in relation to “alleged breaches” of coronavirus regulations.
In response to ITV’s report, a Downing Street spokesman said: “There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid pulled out of a round of key broadcast interviews following the emergence of the leaked footage.
BBC Radio 4’s Today programme said Mr Javid was scheduled to feature on Wednesday morning, but cancelled after the footage emerged.
Presenter Nick Robinson said: “We were expecting to speak to the Health Secretary Sajid Javid this morning but we were told just a few minutes after that video emerged that no minister would be available to speak on the programme today.”
Sir Keir Starmer has called on Johnson to “come clean and apologise”, adding that for aides “to lie and to laugh about those lies is shameful”.
“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,” he said.
“They had a right to expect that the Government was doing the same. To lie and to laugh about those lies is shameful.”
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