Boris Johnson’s government went into hiding this morning after the PM was disgraced by footage of his own team laughing about a No10 staff Christmas party.
For a week after the Mirror revealed the bash on December 18 last year – when London was in Tier 3 lockdown rules – ministers have insisted no rules were broken.
No10 even brazenly tried to insinuate it didn’t happen – by claiming whatever took place wasn’t a party.
But now a clip has been leaked to ITV News of a private ‘mock’ press conference four days after the bash, which involved a Secret Santa, wine, a quiz and “40 or 50” people.
War-gaming questions if the event leaked, then-Press Secretary Allegra Stratton shrugged “what’s the answer?” before joking it was “was not socially distanced”.
Staff in the £2.6m No9 briefing room joked about there being “cheese and wine” and suggested they could defend it as a “business meeting”.
On the day of the mock press conference, 629 people died in the UK with Covid on their death certificate.
Boris Johnson is not accused of being at the December 18 party, but is accused of being at a second bash held as a leaving do on November 27.
Today Health Secretary Sajid Javid abandoned the ‘broadcast round’ of morning TV interviews, where he was meant to celebrate a year since the first Covid jab.
ITV’s Good Morning Britain left an empty chair while BBC Radio 4 presenter Nick Robinson said Mr Javid’s appearances was cancelled “just a few minutes after that video emerged”.
It is incredibly rare for the government to put no minister on the morning round, which happens between 7am and 9am and often involves five or six interviews.
Sky News presenter Joe Pike said: “The Health Secretary was briefly due to come on this programme and other programmes this morning because it’s one year since Margaret Keenan was the first person in the world to receive a Covid vaccine outside a clinical trials.
“That was cancelled, and other ministerial visits today with media access have also been cancelled.”
But the PM will have to face the music at Prime Minister’s Questions at noon, where Keir Starmer is likely to blast his attempts to deceive the British public.
Labour ’s leader said “to lie and to laugh about those lies is shameful,” adding: “Unfortunately we have a Prime Minister who is socially distanced from the truth.”
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford added: “If this is true, then the Prime Minister’s position is untenable and he must remove himself from office immediately.”
Tory MPs are privately enraged that they defended No10 only for Boris Johnson to breach their trust. One told ITV there would need to be resignations.
Conservative Sir Roger Gale told Sky News: “This is like something out of The Thick Of It.”
He added: “I fear this could be a Barnard Castle moment all over again. It is very serious.”
Sir Roger demanded Boris Johnson come to PMQs and either admit there was a party – or categorically deny it.
The MP told the BBC: “If he says that, I will believe him. And the reason is because that will be on the record at the despatch box, and of course to mislead the House of Commons deliberately would be a resignation matter.”
On the day of the party, Tier 3 rules banned gatherings of multiple households in London unless they were “permitted organised gatherings” such as a business meeting.
But barely 24 hours before staff met, the government explicitly warned a business owner that Christmas drinks would not count as “reasonably necessary for work”.
The GOV.UK Twitter account told a man called Mick on December 17: “Although there are exemptions for work purposes, you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier.”
NHS Confederation chief Matthew Taylor said the Downing Street Christmas party was a “blow to morale” to NHS staff.
“If it feels as though powerful people are not playing by the rules, then there is a blow to morale, it does make it harder to get people to follow the advice,” he added.
One NHS staffer told the PA Media news agency she was “incandescent” with anger.
“To say I’m angry… I’m incandescent. It’s the disrespect, it’s the one rule for us and another rule for them, that’s what’s the worst,” the NHS worker said.
“I see Allegra Stratton laughing up there and I feel sick, I feel disrespected, (like) I’ve been taken for a mug.
“I can’t put enough words together right now as to how appalling that behaviour is. It should have consequences.”
Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was “absolutely” a matter for police to look at.
Last night the Metropolitan Police said: “We are aware of footage obtained by ITV News relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at a Government building in December 2020.
“It is our policy not to routinely investigate retrospective breaches of the Covid-19 regulations, however the footage will form part of our considerations.”
Mr Hancock told Good Morning Britain: “I’ve seen something from the police in the newspapers saying they will take it into consideration. It’s absolutely a matter for them and certainly not for the politicians.”
But despite being in government at the time he insisted “I wasn’t invited, I wasn’t there”, adding: “I only found out about it late last night and then I got up early this morning.”
The recording is of a rehearsal on December 22 for planned daily TV media briefings, which Ms Stratton was supposed to be the face of but the Prime Minister later scrapped.
Ed Oldfield, adviser to the PM, said: “I’ve just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night, do you recognise those reports?”
“I went home”, replies Ms Stratton, who appears to crease up laughing before telling colleagues “hold on”.
Following a long pause, Mr Oldfield goes on: “Would the prime minister condone having a Christmas party?”
Ms Stratton laughs and says “what’s the answer?” before her colleagues step in to help her compose an answer.
“It wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine”, offers one.
“Is cheese and wine alright?” Ms Stratton asks, before adding, again laughing “it was a business meeting”.
She then warns those present “this is recorded” and says “this fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced.”
Becky Kummer, spokesperson for Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice said: “In September Boris Johnson looked bereaved families in the eyes and told them he had done everything he could to save their loved ones.
“There are simply no words to describe how upsetting and shameful it is then to hear Boris Johnson’s team laughing about breaking the rules they had made, whilst others followed them and could only say goodbye to their loved ones through a screen.
“It’s the behaviour of people who think they’re above us.”