Former Downing Street spokesperson Allegra Stratton, spots the camera while joking about an alleged Christmas party at number 10 in 2020. Image: ITV News
Government ministers were “running scared” on Wednesday morning as anger spread over a reported Christmas party at Downing Street in December 2020, held while millions of Brits stayed home and complied with coronavirus restrictions.
All morning media appearances from ministers were cancelled, an almost unprecedented event, after a video emerged showing number 10 staffers laughing and joking about a party days after it was alleged to have taken place.
Filmed in Boris Johnson’s media room — which cost millions before being scrapped, un-used — then-spokesperson Allegra Stratton is pictured preparing for a press briefing with aides and staffers.
Ed Oldfield, the prime minister’s adviser, says: “I’ve just seen reports on Twitter that there was a party in Downing Street on Friday night. Do you recognise those reports?”
Stratton gives a brief chuckle before retorting “I went home” and breaking into laughter.
“Hold on, hold on,” she continues, before umming and ahhing while considering a response.
“Would the prime minister condone having a Christmas party?” Oldfield asks.
Laughing again, Stratton responds “what’s the answer?”
“I don’t know!” replies Oldfield, while another staffer calls our “it wasn’t a party… it was cheese and wine”.
“Is cheese and wine alright?” asks Stratton, to a chorus of laughing “no”s from the assorted aides. “It was a business meeting,” she adds.
Remembering the camera, Stratton laughs and says “This is recorded. This fictional party was a business meeting” before adding, through stifled laughs, “and it was not socially distanced”.
Almost 700 people died of coronavirus on the day the footage was filmed, on December 22. Some 514 died on the day of the alleged party, on December 18. Downing Street has repeatedly denied a party took place.
“There was no Christmas party. COVID rules have been followed at all times,” a spokesperson said on Tuesday night.
Reaction online has been furious since the clip was published on Tuesday night, 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 governmetn account replied.
On Wednesday morning many broadcast studios were left flummoxxed as government ministers, including Health Secretary Sajid Javid, bailed on scheduled interviews.
“That no Government Minister is available to address the nation this morning is as shameful as it is cowardly,” tweeted Yorkshire Post editor James Mitchison. Dozens of Twitter users described ministers as “running scared”.
Lord Falconer, a Labour peer, wrote: “Footage shows No 10 staff knew there had been an illegal party. Met should investigate and CPS decide whether sufficient evidence of breaches of criminal law to justify prosecution. Otherwise confidence law applies equally to all will evaporate.”
“The British public’s been bizarrely forgiving of Boris Johnson’s myriad lies as Prime Minister,” wrote TV presenter Piers Morgan. “But they won’t forgive his sniggering, mocking No10 staff brazenly plotting to lie about a Christmas party he’d banned anyone else from having as 1000s were dying. He’s toast.
Many Twitter users shared their anger and heart break over not being able to see loved ones or say goodbye to those who died over the period while Downing Street staffers were reportedly able to enjoy themselves freely.
“Dear Allegra Stratton On the day you partied, my mother called me, breathless and feverish. I didn’t visit,” wrote Trish Greenhalgh, professor of primary care at Oxford University. “On the day you joked, she was admitted to hospital. I didn’t visit. As you celebrated Christmas, she died without family by her side. I promise you, it wasn’t funny.”
“Dear Allegra Stratton, I didn’t get one last Christmas with my little sister before she died 2 weeks after your party, because we stuck to the rules,” wrote another user. “Glad you had a good night though.”
“On the evening this video was filmed, I was handing Christmas presents to my teenage children in a lay-by (divorced from their Mum),” wrote another. “My parents were in the next car along. We weren’t the only family doing the same thing. This matters.”
Perhaps more surprising reaction came from Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, hosts of the popular I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!, which has more viewers than the nightly news.
Describing a change in leadership in the celebrity camp, McPartlin says “they weren’t celebrating. They categorically deny any suggestions that they had a party.
“And this fictional party definitely didn’t involve cheese and wine, or a Secret Santa.”
“Evening prime minister!” cries Donnelly, adding “for now!”
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