PM refuses to deny 'boozy' Tory Christmas party took place during lockdown

1 December 2021, 13:34 | Updated: 1 December 2021, 14:07

Boris says 'all guidance was followed' at 'boozy' Tory Christmas party
Boris says 'all guidance was followed' at 'boozy' Tory Christmas party. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

Sir Keir Starmer accused the Prime Minister of "taking the British public for fools" after he refused to deny that a Christmas party took place at Number 10 last year.

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The Labour leader grilled Boris Johnson during Prime Minister's Questions after reports alleged a "boozy" Christmas party was held at Downing Street during last year's lockdown.

Speaking in the House of Commons today, Sir Keir asked: "As millions of people were locked down last year, was a Christmas party thrown in Downing Street for dozens of people on December 18th?"

Boris Johnson replied: "What I can tell [him] is that all guidance was followed completely (during) Number 10 and can I recommend to [him] that he does the same with his own Christmas party, which is advertised for December 15th, to which unaccountably he's failed to invite the deputy leader."

The questions come after the Daily Mirror said the Prime Minister gave a speech at a packed leaving do for a senior aide last November when the country was in the midst of the second lockdown.

The newspaper said members of his No 10 team then held their own festive party days before Christmas, while London was under Tier 3 restrictions.

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In each case, the paper reported, there were 40 or 50 people crammed "cheek by jowl" into a medium-sized room.

Sir Keir Starmer then directly asked: "Nice try but that won't work. The defence seems to be no rules were broken. Well, I've got the rules that were in place at the time, Prime Minister, of this party, they're very clear.

"You must not have a work Christmas lunch or party. Does the Prime Minister really expect the country to believe that while people were banned from seeing their loved ones at Christmas last year, it was fine for him and his friends to throw a boozy party in Downing Street?"

To which Mr Johnson responded: "I've said what I've said about Number 10 and the events of 12 months ago, but since he asks about what we're asking the country to do this year which I think is, frankly, a more relevant consideration.

"The important thing to do is not only to follow the guidance which we have set out, but also when it comes to dealing with the Omicron variant to make sure that, as we have said, that you wear a mask on public transport and in shops, and that you self isolate if you come into contact with somebody who has Omicron, and, above all, what we're doing is strengthening our measures at the borders, but particularly ... get your booster.

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"I'm not going to ask [Keir Starmer] since I'm forbidden to ask questions, but I hope very much that he's had it."

The Labour leader hit back pointing out that the PM "doesn't deny there was a Downing Street Christmas party last year" stating he "broke the rules".

But Boris Johnson tried to deflect the spotlight off of him, again reverting back to Angela Rayner not being invited to Labour's Christmas drinks, claiming the deputy leader branded Sir Keir as "idiotic childish and pathetic".

The lack of invitation has caused concern that divisions have emerged within the Labour Party, just days after a surprise reshuffle of the shadow Cabinet appeared to blind side Ms Rayner.

Theo Usherwood analysis:

When Number 10 held its Christmas Party on December 18th last year, London was under heavy Tier 3 restrictions.

The rules at the time banned any households mixing indoors.

But separately, guidance for work places allowed people to go to into the office to do their jobs.

And that’s why Health Secretary Sajid Javid insisted no rules were broken, and why the PM told Keir Starmer in the Commons that the guidance had been followed.

It is essentially the rebuttal that Matt Hancock attempted to use when he was caught on CCTV in an embrace with one of his aides earlier this year.

For him, the important point – which didn’t hold water as he had to resign from his job as Health Secretary - was that the moment happened at the Department for Health and Social Care, and not outside of the workplace.

The problem for Number 10 is that there is a separate clause within the rules from last year that "you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier".

Of course, this does create the slightly ridiculous situation where Number 10 would have to argue that its Christmas party last year was not "primarily" a social activity, rather an important opportunity at the top of Government to do some work, with some drinks, canapes and dancing on the side to lighten the mood and mark the impending festivities after a difficult year.

That would be allowed under the rules.

Whether voters think it’s plausible is another matter.