BoJo Under Pressure as New Allegations Arise Amid 'Boozy Party at Downing Street' Reports
06:38 GMT 02.12.2021 (Updated: 15:17 GMT 28.05.2023)
In mid-December 2020, London found itself under the strictest – tier 3 – COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in an effort to curb a surge in cases. People were not allowed to mix indoors with anyone outside their household or support bubble, in private gardens or at most outdoor venues.
Boris Johnson faced a grilling at the Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday amid reports that Downing Street held two parties during the coronavirus lockdown last winter. At the time, London, as other parts of the country, was under tough restrictions set in place to curb the spread of the virus. UK Labour Party leader Keir Starmer accused the prime Minister of throwing "boozy" parties while the public was banned from seeing loved ones at Christmas.
The Prime Minister himself is claimed to have attended one of the gatherings, where “40 or 50” people are said to have been crammed into a room at No 10 “cheek by jowl” and remarked on how “packed” it was, according to witnesses first cited by the Daily Mirror.
“It was a Covid nightmare,” a source was quoted as recalling.
Now fresh reports have surfaced providing details on scope and number of alleged gatherings at Downing Street.
According to the Daily Mirror, citing a Downing Street source, there were often get-togethers in the evenings while millions of people were observing the strict curbs introduced by the Prime Minister himself.
“It was the only place you could get together and socialise. They happened most Fridays,” the source was cited as saying.
The Guardian, in its turn, reported, citing anonymous source, on “loads of leaving parties” and unplanned social events throughout the second and third coronavirus lockdowns. At the time, London, as other parts of the country, was under tough restrictions set in place to curb the spread of the virus.
Sources cited by the BBC said several dozen people, including the press and events teams, had played party games and were served food and drink at a gathering on 18 December. The festive bash was believed to have carried on past midnight, while the prevalent mood was said to have been “downbeat”.
Witnesses cited by the outlets speak of “many social gatherings” in Downing Street last year, while the public faced restrictions. It has been suggested that there were “always parties” in the Downing Street flat where Johnson resides with his wife, as “Carrie’s addicted to them”.
“While senior civil servants were urging caution and there was one message to the public, Prime Minister gave the impression that it could be very relaxed in No 10. He would either turn a blind eye or on some occasions attend himself while everyone else was in lockdown,” a source was cited by the Daily Miror as saying.
In December 2020, the UK government imposed a three-tiered system of public health measures to try to curb the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak following a month-long lockdown. Millions of people found themselves placed into “Tier 3” – the toughest set of restraints - at the time.
© REUTERS / HENRY NICHOLLSFILE PHOTO: People drink outside a bar as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in London, Britain, December 15, 2020
FILE PHOTO: People drink outside a bar as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in London, Britain, December 15, 2020
© REUTERS / HENRY NICHOLLS
The UK capital was first put into the second-highest tier of restrictions, and finally designated as Tier 3 on 14 December. Under Tier 3 restrictions, people could not mix indoors, in private gardens or most outdoor venues, while bars, pubs and restaurants were to close except for takeaway and delivery.
The official No 10 staff Christmas party was cancelled at the time. However, according to the reports, party games and festivities beyond midnight at Downing Street that could even have been punishable with a £10,000 fine did take place. The initial reports single out two events. The first was ostensibly a leaving party held for Cleo Watson, a former aide to one-time PM’s adviser Dominic Cummings, held on 27 November.
6 February 2021, 14:01 GMT
Coincidentally, Cummings, the political strategist who departed Downing Street in November 2020, had previously himself been caught in the crossfire over breaching lockdown rules. At the time of the alleged event, meeting indoors or in private gardens was not allowed under restrictions set in place to fight the pandemic. With pubs, restaurants and shops closed, individuals were allowed to meet only one other person from another household outside in a public place.
Johnson is described as having arrived at the event, made a speech, mentioned how crowded it was in the room, and then left shortly afterwards, according to a source cited by The Guardian.
The second event – reportedly a Christmas party on 18 December – was said to have taken place after London found itself under the highest level of COVID-19 restrictions – tier 3. This prohibited indoor social mixing outside one’s own household, unless it was with your support bubble.
At PMQs, UK Labour Party leader Keir Starmer accused Boris Johnson of “taking the British public for fools for following the rules”, adding:
“The prime minister doesn’t deny there was a Downing Street Christmas party last year. He says no rules were broken. Both of those things can’t be true.”
"Does the PM really expect the country to believe... it was fine for him and his friends to throw a boozy party in Downing Street?— PoliticsHome (@politicshome) December 1, 2021
Keir Starmer quizzed Boris Johnson over a Christmas Party held at No 10 in 2020 despite rules stating such gatherings were not allowed #PMQs pic.twitter.com/ZAGto2K0lI
In response, Boris Johnson did not appear to deny that parties had been held inside Downing Street, saying:
“What I can tell the right honourable gentleman is that all guidance was followed completely in No 10.”
Starmer continued that the rules then in place were “very clear” regarding work Christmas parties.
“Does the prime minister really expect the country to believe that while people were banned from seeing loved ones at Christmas last year, it was fine for him and his friends to throw a boozy party in Downing Street?” queried Starmer.
Ian Blackford, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in the House of Commons, accused the prime minister of hosting an event that broke lockdown rules. "The prime minister might be denying it but I've spoken to the Mirror newspaper this morning and they are confirming what happened, and they have legal advice on potential illegality," he was cited as saying, adding:
"At a time when public health messaging is so vital, how are people possibly expected to trust a prime minister when he thinks it's one rule for him and one rule for everybody else?"
Boris Johnson’s press secretary at a media briefing repeatedly refused to “recognize” reports about the parties. “We don’t recognise these reports and all Covid rules have been followed,” stated the spokesperson, adding: “I don’t have anything else to add to what I’ve said already ... I’m not going to get into individual pieces of speculation from a year ago.”