Boris Johnson defiantly insisted Wednesday that “no party” took place at 10 Downing Street in the run up to Christmas last year, despite his spokeswoman quitting on Wednesday over damning video of her using a mock press conference to laugh and joke about a 10 Downing Street Christmas party.
The party allegedly took place last year while London was in a Christmas lockdown, which banned all indoor social and household mixing on threat of a £10,000 ($13,000) fine.
The government has steadfastly denied the party, which British newspaper the Mirror alleged took place on Dec. 18, ever happened, insisting all COVID-19 regulations were followed. Under the hastily drawn up regulations, some gatherings, such as business meetings, were permitted.
However, that defense was blown out of the water Tuesday night after a video was leaked to ITV News of Johnson’s then-spokesperson, Allegra Stratton, cynically war gaming questions about the party—which, the Mirror has alleged, involved a Secret Santa, wine, a quiz and “40 or 50” people—in a mock press conference.
Shortly after the video went viral, Stratton gave a tearful statement outside her home announcing she had resigned as an adviser to Johnson.
“My remarks seemed to make light of rules, rules that people were doing everything to obey. That was never my intention,” she said, adding that she offered “profound apologies.”
“I will regret those remarks for the rest of my days.”
In the video, Stratton giggles and sniggers as a man identified as Ed Oldfield, a prime ministerial adviser, poses a mock question, saying: “I’ve just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night, do you recognize those reports?”
Stratton replies with a laugh, as she leans over the podium: “I went home.”
Oldfield then asks: “Would the Prime Minister condone having a Christmas party?”
Stratton, still laughing, replies: “What’s the answer?”
Oldfield says back, in an amused tone: “I don’t know!”
Another unidentified staffer is then heard to say in a droll manner: “It wasn’t a party… it was cheese and wine.”
Stratton then says sarcastically: “Is cheese and wine alright? It was a business meeting.”
Everyone laughs before another staffer says, “No! … was joking!”
Stratton then says, still laughing, “This is recorded. This fictional party was a business meeting… and it was not socially distanced?”
The recording was made on Dec. 22, two days after Britain’s lockdown was escalated, canceling Christmas for millions. Many people were banned from visiting dying family members. Fines of £10,000 were levied on lockdown rule breakers and the video has prompted British police to say they will investigate the alleged party.
Senior minister Sajid Javid was pulled from media interviews Wednesday morning and was “empty-chaired” by the BBC. On ITV breakfast show Good Morning Britain, host Susanna Reid said, “This feels like gaslighting. We know something happened but we are constantly having the waters muddied.”
In a statement in the House of Commons, Johnson said: “I understand and share the anger up and down the country at seeing Number 10 staff seeming to make light of lockdown measures.
“I can understand how infuriating it must be to think that the people who have been setting the rules have not been following the rules because I was also furious to see that clip.
“I apologize unreservedly for the offense that it has caused and I apologize for the impression that it gives.
“But I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no COVID rules were broken. That is what I have been repeatedly assured, but I have asked the cabinet secretary to establish all the facts and to report back as soon as possible, and it goes without saying that if those rules were broken then there will be disciplinary action for all those involved.”
The revelation comes as Johnson’s government is widely expected to tighten restrictions in the face of fears of a dizzying rise in Omicron cases, with work-from-home guidance and vaccine passports expected to be announced imminently.
The shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry accused Johnson of “acting like Henry VIII” amid widespread calls for his resignation.