avin Williamson threw a party for Department for Education staff in the lead-up to Christmas in contravention to coronavirus social-distancing rules, it was reported on Wednesday.
The former education secretary was said to have delivered a speech as up to two dozen of his staff gathered in the department’s cafe for “drinks and canapes” on December 10, 2020 – while London was under Tier 2 restrictions banning social mixing between households.
A source told the Mirror: “There were lots of people gathered in the cafe area, mingling and drinking wine. It was just so reckless”.
A DfE spokeswoman confirmed the gathering had taken place, saying: “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.”
In video obtained by ITV News, the Prime Minister’s then press secretary Allegra Stratton is seen answering questions at a mock press conference on December 22 about a party the previous Friday – the date of the alleged Covid rule-breaking gathering.
Advisor Ed Oldfield can be heard asking Ms Stratton: “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 appearing to consider what the correct answer should be.
During the rehearsal, filmed as part of a subsequently-abandoned plan for Ms Stratton to lead televised press briefings, one aide is heard saying: “It wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine.”
“Is cheese and wine all right? It was a business meeting,” Ms Stratton replied, to laughter in the room.
Ms Stratton then noted “this is recorded”, adding: “This fictional party was a business meeting … and it was not socially distanced.”
Sir Keir Starmer, who will face the Prime Minister in PMQs on Wednesday, urged Boris Johnson to “come clean and apologise”.
“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,” he said.
“They had a right to expect that the Government was doing the same. To lie and to laugh about those lies is shameful.”
The Metropolitan Police confirmed officers are reviewing the leaked video in relation to “alleged breaches” of coronavirus regulations.
In response to ITV’s report, a Downing Street spokesman said: “There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times.”