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Downing St staff joke about Xmas party in leaked clip after ministers deny it took place
8 December 2021, 05:32 | Updated: 8 December 2021, 05:36
Credit: ITV News
A video has been leaked that appears to show Downing Street staff joking about a Christmas party last year that ministers have so far denied took place.
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The video, leaked to ITV News, appears to show staff at a rehearsal press conference on December 22 joking about a party that took place four days previously while London was under Tier 3 restrictions.
The Metropolitan Police have said it is "aware" of the video and that it will "form part" of their decision on whether to investigate the allegations.
Ed Oldfield, the Prime Minister's special adviser, can be heard asking Boris Johnson's former spokesperson Allegra Stratton about the party, saying: "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 laughs and says: "I went home."
She then says "hold on, hold on" and appears to be thinking of an appropriate response.
After floundering for a few seconds, Mr Oldfield asked: "Would the Prime Minister condone having a Christmas party?"
Ms Stratton can be seen laughing again, and asks: "What's the answer?"
Mr Oldfield responds "I don't know" before another Downing Street employee can be heard suggesting she answers with "it wasn't a party, it was cheese and wine".
Another employee can be heard saying: "Just be clear it's not a party."
Ms Stratton then says: "Is cheese and wine alright?
"It was a business meeting," she adds, to laughter from the other staff members.
Ms Stratton then says, through laughter: "This is recorded.
"This fictional party was a business meeting... and it was not socially distanced."
In response to the footage, the Met said: "We are aware of footage obtained by ITV News relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at a Government building in December 2020.
"It is our policy not to routinely investigate retrospective breaches of the Covid 19 regulations, however the footage will form part of our considerations."
The deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told LBC's Swarbrick on Sunday on Sunday that the alleged party did not take place.
"The PM has been clear that there was consistent respect for the rules and frankly we've got a sort of media regurgitating this unsubstantiated set of anonymous claims rather than something substantiated or clear," said Mr Raab, when asked by Tom Swarbrick whether a party took place on December 18 2020.
Tom pressed Mr Raab, asking: "Is it clear about what actually happened? It could be substantiated now by saying a party did or did not happen."
"Well I wasn't there, I'm told there was no party that took place," said Mr Raab.
When asked on Tuesday about the details of the party - including claims there was a pre-planned Secret Santa and formal invites were issued - Boris Johnson said: "What I can tell you is that all the guidelines were observed."
It was a claim he repeated when asked if the gathering was classed as a party.
Asked whether he had personally investigated the gathering, the PM replied: "I have satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times."
On December 18 London was in Tier 3 of coronavirus restrictions.
Under these rules, indoor mixing of households was banned apart from within so-called "support bubbles".
People were also required to work from home if they could, and the guidance said people "must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity".
Even if the gathering was a "business meeting" as Ms Stratton claimed, the guidance said they must be socially distanced, attended by no more than 30 people, and must only take place in-person if absolutely necessary.
Initial reports suggested between 40 and 50 people attended the alleged party.
In response to ITV News' story Downing Street said: "There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times."
Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK - which campaigns for, among other things, a public inquiry into the Government's handling of the pandemic - said there were "no words to describe how upsetting" the video is, and said it shows "people who think they're above us".
"In September Boris Johnson looked bereaved families in the eyes & told them he had done everything he could to save their loved ones," said the group.
"There are simply no words to describe how upsetting and shameful it is to then hear Boris Johnson's team laughing about breaking the rules they had made, whilst others followed them and could only say goodbye to their loved ones through a screen.
"It’s the behaviour of people who think they’re above us.
"Leaders set the culture of an organisation, and the PM has set a culture where breaches of the rules are laughed about and the rules only apply to some.
"Is it any wonder we’ve had over 160,000 deaths when the people in charge joke about it like it doesn't apply to them?
"How can we have faith in this Government to protect us from the new variant?
"Is there anyone left across this country who truly believes the rules weren't not broken at this Downing Street party."
They added: "It's clear what needs to happen now.
"Prime Minister: tell the truth."
There are simply no words to describe how upsetting and shameful it is to then hear Boris Johnson's team laughing about breaking the rules they had made, whilst others followed them and could only say goodbye to their loved ones through a screen.— Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK (@CovidJusticeUK) December 7, 2021
In response to the footage, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the British people had a "right to expect" that the Government was following the rules.
"People across the country followed the rules, even when that meant being separated from loved ones," he said in a tweet.
"They had a right to expect the government was doing the same.
"To lie and to laugh about those lies is shameful.
"We have a Prime Minister who’s socially distanced from the truth."
Deputy leader Angela Rayner also criticised the Government and said the allegations were not "funny".
"Thousands of families spent Christmas apart," she said.
"Thousands of families spent Christmas grieving loved ones.
"Thousands of key workers spent Christmas Day on the frontline, saving lives.
"This isn’t funny to any of them."
Conservative MP Stephen Hammond told LBC there "clearly" was a party and Number 10 would now need to explain themselves.
"I think there will be real pressure on Number 10 tonight to clear up the story," he told Iain Dale's Cross Question on Tuesday.
"You can't say there wasn't a party because there clearly was.
"Everybody else as far as I'm aware obeyed the rules... I certainly did.
"I share a sense of shock that it was allowed to happen, whether [Boris Johnson] was there or not.
"Frankly, now there is real pressure on Number 10 to come out and absolutely clear up what happened, clear up what action they're going to take, otherwise unfortunately it will be another incident where someone - like the Dominic Cummings escapade to Barnard Castle - which will undermine trust in the Government."
When Iain put the latest Downing Street statement to him, which says the party did not take place, he said: "It was clearly a gathering."