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Politics

Boris Johnson says ‘stop playing politics’ over Downing Street Christmas party

The prime minister has apologised over the video showing his staff laughing about a Downing Street Christmas party last year. But insists the party didn’t happen.

Boris Johnson has apologised for a damning video showing his staff laughing about a Christmas party in Downing Street last year – but again insisted “there was no party”.

The government is facing a furious backlash over reports of the party in December 2020, when millions of Brits stayed home and complied with coronavirus restrictions.

Johnson kicked off an eagerly-anticipated Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday – following no-shows from ministers on the morning media rounds – by saying he understood the anger over the video. But he again denied any party took place.

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He said: “I can understand how infuriating it must be to think the people who have been setting the rules have not been setting the rules, because I was also furious to see that clip. And I apologise unreservedly for the offence it has caused up and down the country and I apologise 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. But I have asked the cabinet secretary to establish all the facts and report back as soon as possible and it goes without saying if those rules were broken then there will be disciplinary action.”

After Labour leader Keir Starmer spoke of Trisha Greenhalgh, whose mother died alone last Christmas, Johnson said it was a “great mistake to play politics with this issue”.

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“The prime minister, the government, spent the week telling the British public, ‘There was no party, all guidance was followed completely’,” Starmer said.

“Millions of people now think the prime minister was taking them for fools. That they were lied to. They’re right aren’t they?”

Starmer continued: “An internal investigation into what happened? The situation is as clear as day. Surely the prime minister isn’t going to start pretending that the first he knew about this was last night.

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“We all watched the video of the prime minister’s staff, including his personal spokesperson. They knew there was a party, they knew it was against the rules, they knew they couldn’t admit it. And they thought it was funny. It’s obvious what happened.

Ant and Dec are ahead of the prime minister on this. The prime minister has been caught red handed. Why doesn’t he end the investigation right now by just admitting it?”

Starmer also referenced people being prosecuted at the moment for breaching Covid restrictions last Christmas, and called for Johnson to hand over any evidence of the alleged party to police, which the prime minister said he would do.

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Almost 700 people died of coronavirus on December 22, the day the video footage was filmed. Some 514 died on December 18 – the day of the alleged party.

Reaction online has been furious since the clip was published on Tuesday by ITV, with thousands highlighting a government tweet on December 17 responding to a member of the public asking whether a Christmas party could be “held in the workplace at the end of a working day with staff members only”.

“Although there are exemptions for work purposes, 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,” the official governmet account replied.

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