Boris Johnson has insisted that 'guidance was followed' after reports emerged that Christmas parties were held in Downing Street last year while coronavirus restrictions on gatherings were in place.
The prime minister did not deny that a “boozy” Christmas party was held at Number 10 when questioned over the allegations by Sir Keir Starmer during Prime Minister's Questions this afternoon.
The Labour leader accused Mr Johnson of “taking the British public for fools” as he explained that any festive gathering would have been against the rules that applied at the end of 2020.
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It comes after the Mirror reported that Mr Johnson gave a speech at a 'packed' leaving do for a top aide last November during the second nationwide lockdown. The paper also reported that members of his top team held their own festive bash just days before Christmas when London was under Tier 3 restrictions.
Around “40 or 50” people were said to have been crammed “cheek by jowl” into a medium-sized room in Number 10 for each of the two events, with one source describing it as a "Covid nightmare".
Mr Johnson and his team have responded to the allegations but denied any rules were broken.
Asked by Sir Keir whether a Christmas party was thrown in Downing Street on December 18, Mr Johnson replied: “All guidance was followed completely.”
Sir Keir said: “The defence seems to be ‘no rules were broken’. Well, I’ve got the rules that were in place at the time, prime minister, of this party, they are very clear: you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party.
“Does the PM really expect the country to believe that whilst people were banned from seeing their loved ones at Christmas this year it was fine for him and his friends to throw a boozy party in Downing Street?”
Mr Johnson simply replied: “I have said what I said about Number 10 and the events of 12 months ago", before attempting to steer discussions towards this year's coronavirus restrictions.
The Labour leader responded: “Them prime minister does not deny there was a Downing Street Christmas party last year. He says no rules were broken.
“Both of those things can’t be true. He is taking the British public for fools”.
Mr Johnson was also grilled on the reports by Ian Blackford, the Scottish National Party’s leader in Westminster.
He asked: “How are people possibly expected to trust the PM when he thinks it’s one rule for him and one rule for everybody else?”
But Mr Johnson told him he was “talking total nonsense”.
A spokesperson for Number 10 also did not deny the gathering had taken place but said: “At all stages the rules have been followed.”
Referring to the reports, Mr Johnson's press secretary added: “We don’t recognise this account, as we’ve said Covid rules have been followed at all times.”
Asked which parts of the report were being denied, she said: “I’m not going to get into individual aspects of speculation.”
A top barrister told the Mirror that organisers of a festive gathering at Downing Street “would potentially have committed a criminal offence”.
Adam Wagner, Visiting Professor of Law at Goldsmiths University of London who has analysed Covid laws, said organisers of such an event could have faced a £10,000 fine while attendees could have been fined £200.
Mr Wagner said only “permitted organised gatherings” or those “reasonably necessary for work” would have been allowed at the time.
In an analysis for the Mirror, he wrote: “It seems doubtful that any kind of party, held for over 30 people indoors where Covid was more likely to spread, would be reasonably necessary for work."
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