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Met police to examine leaked footage of Downing Street aides joking about Christmas party

·5 min read
Met police to examine leaked footage of Downing Street aides joking about Christmas party

The Met is to examine leaked footage of senior No 10 aides joking about a Christmas party which Downing Street has denied ever happened.

It has just emerged Allegra Stratton, who at the time was the Prime Minister’s press secretary, was seen being questioned about reports of a Downing Street Christmas party.

The leaked footage, obtained by ITV News, was reportedly filmed as part of preparations for televised briefings by Ms Stratton – which was then abandoned.

It is reported the party took place on December 18 at a time when such gatherings had been banned under pandemic restrictions.

Ms Stratton filmed a rehearsal on December 22.

Ed Oldfield, a special adviser to the prime minister, asked her on the footage: “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 replied “I went home” before a discussion with colleagues about whether the event was a “cheese and wine” evening.

She added: “This fictional party was a business meeting … And it was not socially distanced.”

A Met police statement said: “It is our policy not to routinely investigate retrospective breaches of the Covid-19 regulations, however, the footage will form part of our considerations.”

In response to the footage showing No 10 aides apparently joking about a Christmas party during the 2020 lockdown, a Downing Street spokesman said: “There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times.”

Sir Keir Starmer urged Boris Johnson to “come clean and apologise” after footage emerged showing Downing Street aides apparently joking about a Christmas party during the 2020 lockdown.

The Labour Party leader said: “People across the country followed the rules even when that meant being separated from their families, locked down and – tragically for many – unable to say goodbye to their loved ones.

“They had a right to expect that the Government was doing the same. To lie and to laugh about those lies is shameful. The Prime Minister now needs to come clean and apologise. It cannot be one rule for the Conservatives and another for everyone else.”

Piling on the pressure, Labour's shadow foreign secretary David Lammy on Wednesday also called on the Prime Minister to “come clean” with the British public.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “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.”

In response to ITV's report, a Downing Street spokesman said: “There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times.”

Ministers are yet to explain how the alleged bash complied with the rules in place at the time, despite coming under pressure since an initial report in the Daily Mirror.

The newspaper said two events took place in No 10 in the run-up to the festive season last year, including Mr Johnson giving a speech at a leaving do during November's lockdown.

The other was said to be a staff party in December where party games were played, food and drinks were served, and revelries went on past midnight.

At the time, the Tier 3 rules explicitly banned work Christmas lunches and parties where it is “a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted”.

As the government came under mounting pressure over the video leak, Health Secretary Sajid Javid pulled out of national interviews on Wednesday morning, while vaccines minister Maggie Throup was understood to have cancelled a planned round of regional television interviews.

Adam Wagner, a barrister from Doughty Street Chambers and an expert on the Covid laws, said those involved in the party could be in “legal peril”, despite potential “ambiguities” in the legislation which might allow them to escape.

“There is an open question that the Metropolitan police are going to be looking at as to whether any criminal laws have been broken and I wonder whether that’s what’s going on now,” he said. “Quite obviously there was a party, they’ve barely denied it, and the line they’re taking is an odd one so I do wonder now whether they are worried about the legal peril.

“Tier 3 was in place at the time and meant you couldn’t have an indoor gathering unless it was reasonably necessary for work and clearly a pre-arranged Christmas party with games and that sort of thing wouldn’t be reasonably necessary for work.

“There’s a couple of potential legal ambiguities, first of all whether the rules, the law, applied to N10 Downing Street at all because there’s a bit in the Public Health Act which says it doesn’t apply to Crown properties. It’s not clear whether that means it doesn’t apply to individuals.

“There’s also a question as to whether there’s a particular kind of gathering that could be held indoors, but I’m not convinced by that so it could have been against the law – it was certainly against guidance at the time.”

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