The Mirror can reveal another top Tory broke Covid party rules at Christmas as then Education Secretary Gavin Willamson hosted a ‘reckless’ bash during the ban on socialising
As millions of children faced the misery of Christmas under strict Covid rules, ex-Education Secretary Gavin Williamson threw a party.
London was in Tier 2 – which banned any social mixing between households – on December 10 last year when up to two dozen of Mr Williamson’s staff gathered in the Department for Education cafe for “drinks and canapes”.
The former Cabinet minister delivered a short speech at the evening event before officials and ministers knocked back glasses of wine.
One source said: “There were lots of people gathered in the cafe area, mingling and drinking wine. It was just so reckless”.
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Another added: “He hosted a drinks do when people were considering whether they could spend Christmas with their families.”
Tonight the DfE did not deny Covid rules had been broken and admitted “it would have been better” not to have held the event while the rest of the country was banned from doing so.
Official DfE figures show that state school attendance on 10 December was just 85%, meaning that 1.2 million children in England were out of school.
Just a week before, on December 3, Mr Williamson urged people to take the “responsible approach” of following social distancing and self-isolation rules to avoid a new surge in cases and tougher restrictions being imposed.
The revelation comes after the Mirror reported Prime Minister Boris Johnson and staff attended parties at No10 in the run-up to last Christmas.
At one on December 18, members of his top team enjoyed drinks, nibbles and party games – including a Secret Santa – until past midnight.
Fresh allegations today revealed officials organised the party a week in advance via a Whatsapp group, followed up by an email. One source said: “Of course it was premeditated… Everyone came with Secret Santa presents.”
Mr Johnson said: “I am satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times.”
Revelations of Mr Williamson’s drinks do follow ex-No10 aide Dominic Cummings ’ lockdown-busting trip to Barnard Castle and former Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s social distance-breaching clinch with an aide in his office.
As Mr Williamson gathered with staff, Mr Hancock was telling the No10 press briefing how the Government was “particularly concerned” about the rise in Covid cases among secondary pupils.
He announced an immediate plan for testing all secondary school-aged children in the seven worst affected London boroughs. Mr Hancock said: “With Christmas coming, there’s something we all can do which is to respect the rules.”
Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson said today: “While Covid rates spiralled, schools were in crisis and children prevented from seeing friends and family.
“it is clear the DfE didn’t have a plan – but did have a party.
“This Government has failed our children throughout the pandemic and does not have their best interests at heart. Boris Johnson and his ministers believe they are above the rules, it’s truly one rule for them and one rule for the rest of us.”
Mr Williamson, who was sacked by Boris Johnson in his last reshuffle, was at the time of the bash struggling to handle the impact of the second Covid wave on schools.
Hundreds of thousands of children were forced to self-isolate at home, missing yet more school, when somebody in their “bubble” tested positive for the coronavirus.
Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)
The party took place just days before the Education Secretary threatened a South London council with legal action if they closed schools.
The only feasible legal way either the No10 or DfE gatherings could have taken place was if they were “reasonably necessary for work” under the regulations.
Whitehall staff have been classified as key workers throughout the pandemic.
A DfE spokesman said: “The gathering was used to thank those staff for their efforts during the pandemic. 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.”
Mr Williamson was today approached for comment.