Leaked recording shows Downing Street staff joking about Christmas party in No 10
Leaked footage showing senior Downing Street staff joking about holding a Christmas party last December has prompted anger from MPs, NHS bosses and those who lost loved ones during the pandemic.
Sajid David, the health secretary, was due to speak to the BBC on Wednesday morning but pulled out of the key broadcast interview, and the latest development piles pressure on the prime minister, who is due to face a grilling from Keir Starmer and other political opponents during PMQs later today.
The Daily Mirror also reported that former education secretary Gavin Williamson threw a separate party and delivered a short speech at the event last December while London was in Tier 2, which banned social mixing between households.
Further lockdowns cannot be ruled out, says Sage member as party claims undermine health messaging
A member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has said introducing a UK-wide lockdown to deal with the threat of the omicron variant cannot be ruled out.
Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, whose data was instrumental to the UK going into lockdown in March 2020, said the variant was concerning but it was still unknown what its impact will be on severe disease.
He suggested people may be told to work from home in the near future as omicron is spreading fast, with the variant set to take over from the delta strain before Christmas.
The looming threat of further Covid restrictions will be a tough sell for ministers in the light of the latest accusations of rule breaking by those linked to the government.
MPs and health leaders have expressed concern that the Christmas party claims and yesterday’s leaked video will weaken public health messaging in future and could make enacting tighter coronavirus rules much more difficult at a time when the virus is spreading.
Tom Batchelor8 December 2021 08:57
I’m a Celeb fans applaud Ant and Dec for swipe at Johnson
Ant and Dec took aim at Downing Street in the latest episode of I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here, interpreted by some as evidence that the saga has well and truly become a national story rather than one within the ‘Westminster bubble’.
Referring to a gathering among the contestants, the pair quipped “this party didn’t include cheese and wine, or a secret Santa. Evening Prime Minister… for now!”
Fans reacted online, with one writing: “Even Ant and Dec aren’t buying the lies from Number 10 about the Xmas party,” while another added: “you…legends with that party link!”
Tom Batchelor8 December 2021 08:49
Lammy demands PM ‘come clean’ with public over party
Labour’s David Lammy has said the government’s actions are “unacceptable” and that there is “one rule for a prime minister and those in No 10 and another rule for the British public”.
The shadow foreign secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “He’s got to come clean with the British public.
“It really is quite unacceptable that this is seen as something that is sort of humorous, or something that isn’t serious, or something that suggests that there can be one rule for a prime minister and those in No 10 and another rule for the British public.”
Tom Batchelor8 December 2021 08:39
Johnson ‘socially distanced from the truth’, says Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer has said the leaked video of senior aides laughing about a “cheese and wine” evening indicates that the prime minister has “not been straight” about claims of a festive get-together, describing his actions as “shameful”.
The leader of the Labour Party tweeted: “People across the country followed the rules, even when that meant being separated from loved ones.
“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.”
Tom Batchelor8 December 2021 08:30
Johnson to face grilling at PMQs
Boris Johnson is expected to face questions over whether he has told the truth about the alleged lockdown-busting Christmas party in No 10 after the leaked footage emerged.
He will be under the spotlight at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, with his opposite number likely to grill Mr Johnson for a second week running about what happened in Downing Street on 18 December last year.
PMQs starts at midday with full updates to follow in this blog.
Tom Batchelor8 December 2021 08:24
PM faces Tory angry over festive party
Boris Johnson is facing anger not just from his political opponents but from his own MPs.
Veteran Conservative Sir Roger Gale said the situation bore “all the hallmarks of another ‘Barnard Castle’ moment” – a reference to the PM’s former aide driving 260 miles during strict lockdown conditions last year.
“No 10 clearly has some serious questions to answer. Fast,” tweeted the North Thanet MP.
The Telegraph’s Harry Yorke quoted a former Tory minister as saying: “It’s a disaster and some extreme humble pie needs to be eaten. I am absolutely furious because we’ve been trying to make the best of it on the basis of assurances. “This kind of thing just can’t happen.”
Tory MP Charles Walker told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg that “the No 10 party means that any future lockdowns will be advisory, whatever the law says”.
Conservative pundit Tim Montgomerie wrote: “I am completely gobsmacked at this Christmas Party story. What were ppl in No10 thinking (or weren’t they thinking at all)? This govt badly needs some grown-ups in Downing St. No one seems to be in charge. Diabolical.”
Tom Batchelor8 December 2021 08:16
Gavin Williamson held separate Christmas party against Covid rules
The Department for Education (DfE) has admitted to holding its own social gathering of staff in the lead-up to Christmas last year, in contravention to coronavirus social-distancing rules.
The Mirror reported that former education secretary Gavin Williamson threw a party and delivered a short speech at the event, which took place on 10 December while London was in Tier 2, which banned social mixing between households.
A DfE spokeswoman said: “While this was work-related, looking back we accept it would have been better not to have gathered in this way at that particular time.”
Tom Batchelor8 December 2021 08:09
NHS boss says No 10 party claims are a ‘blow to staff morale’
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS trusts, has said the suggestion of a Downing Street Christmas party last year delivered a “blow to morale” for working in the health service.
“In any difficult situation we all need to feel that we’re pulling together, that we’re a part of an effort and if it feels as though people have not been playing by the rules, if it feels as though powerful people are not playing by the rules, then there is a blow to morale, it does make it harder to get people to follow the advice,” Mr Taylor told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“So no, it really isn’t what we need at the moment.”
He added: “The public need the clearest possible message [on the Covid pandemic], and spending a lot of time dealing with what happened last year is not helping get that message across.”
Tom Batchelor8 December 2021 07:58
Ministers pull out of broadcast interviews amid party furore
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, has pulled out of a key broadcast interview this morning following the emergence of the leaked footage.
BBC Radio 4’s Today programme said Mr Javid was scheduled to feature on Wednesday morning, but cancelled after the footage emerged.
Presenter Nick Robinson said: “We were expecting to speak to the Health Secretary Sajid Javid this morning but we were told just a few minutes after that video emerged that no minister would be available to speak on the programme today.”
Vaccines minister Maggie Throup is also understood to have pulled out of a planned round of regional television interviews.
Tom Batchelor8 December 2021 07:48
Video shows Downing Street staff joking about Christmas party
Firstly, a recap of the story which broke late yesterday that senior Downing Street staff had recorded themselves joking about holding a banned Christmas party in No 10.
In the video from last December obtained by ITV News, Boris Johnson’s then spokesperson Allegra Stratton joked that the party was “was not socially distanced” and suggested passing it off as “a business meeting”.
The footage was recorded as a rehearsal for planned televised press briefings, with mock questions posted by the prime minister’s special adviser Ed Oldfield and other staff.
Read the full story here:
Tom Batchelor8 December 2021 07:43