Education department admits 'we shouldn't have held staff party last December'

7 December 2021, 22:01 | Updated: 8 December 2021, 00:31

Gavin Williamson gave a speech, it was reported
Gavin Williamson gave a speech, it was reported. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

A Government department has admitted it "would have been better" to have cancelled a social gathering last December, when Covid restrictions were in place.

The Department for Education's admission comes after leaked footage emerged of Downing Street staff joking about a Christmas party last year.

It has raised questions because ministers have denied that one took place, and Boris Johnson insisted any event would have been within guidance at the time.

Now, the Mirror said Gavin Williamson – the then education secretary – threw a party and gave a short speech on December 10 2020, when London was in Tier 2, which banned mixing between households.

Read more: Downing St staff joke about Xmas party in leaked clip after ministers deny it took place

A spokeswoman 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."

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The footage leaked today appeared to show senior Downing Street staff joking about another party, allegedly also held in December 2020.

The video, obtained by ITV News, shows Boris Johnson's former spokesperson Allegra Stratton being asked mock questions in a rehearsal press conference.

She is quizzed by Ed Oldfield, the Prime Minister's special adviser, on "a Downing Street party on Friday night".

Ms Stratton laughs as she tries to think of an appropriate response, before saying: "Is cheese and wine alright?"

She then says, laughing: "This fictional party was a business meeting... and it was not socially distanced."