3 min read
Leaked footage of Downing Street staff joking about holding a Christmas Party last year while the rest of the UK was in lockdown have been described as a “serious kick in the face” by Labour.
The shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said it was “outrageous what’s happening in this country” after a clip was published by ITV showing Boris Johnson’s former spokesperson laughing about how to answer questions about the alleged event.
Lammy told the BBC the footage would have a serious impact on people sticking to new Covid measures to deal with the Omicron variant.
“It leaves a very, very nasty taste in the mouth as we we head into what may be the most difficult period we face,” he said.
The government pulled ministerial media appearances this morning, meaning there was no senior response to the leak. Sajid Javid had been due to appear on broadcasts to mark the one-year anniversary of the UK’s Covid vaccination programme.
The vaccines minister Maggie Throup is understood to have also pulled out of a planned round of regional television interviews 12 months on from 90-year-old Margaret Keenan from Coventry receiving the first official jab on December 8, 2020.
But Johnson will have to face MPs and the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in the Commons this lunchtime at Prime Minister’s Questions, where he is expected to be asked about the row.
The leaked footage shows Johnson’s then-press secretary Allegra Stratton along with other aides, laughing about a “fictional” Downing Street party in December 2020.
When one jokes “it wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine” she laughs and asks “is cheese and wine all right?”.
“This fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced,” she added.
In response to the clip, Number 10 said: “There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times.”
But Lammy described the government’s response as “hogwash”.
“We all know a lie when we see one and that appears to be what we’re facing today.”
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Johnson has “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 Number 10 and another rule for the British public,” he continued.
Senior backbench Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale said he feared this could be a “Barnard Castle moment all over again”, referring to the PM’s former aide Dominic Cummings when he broke lockdown rules last year.
He told BBC Radio 4 that he wants Johnson to come to the despatch box and make a full statement explaining matters, saying “this isn’t a laughing matter”.
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