Boris Johnson has said “all guidance was followed completely” as the prime minister was accused by Sir Keir Starmer of hosting a “boozy party” in Downing Street last Christmas despite COVID rules that were in place at the time.
The Labour leader said Mr Johnson was “taking the British public for fools” as the pair clashed at Prime Minister’s Questions.
It comes after the Daily Mirror reported that the PM made a speech at a leaving do on 13 November – when the country was in the second lockdown – and allowed a festive party to proceed on 18 December when London was in the grip of Tier 3 restrictions.
Another supermarket won’t enforce mask rule; country finds Omicron case from month before first South Africa cases – COVID latest
The report was seized upon by Sir Keir, who asked Mr Johnson at PMQs: “As millions of people were locked down last year, was a Christmas party thrown in Downing Street for dozens of people on 18 December?”
Mr Johnson did not deny that a party had taken place, telling the Commons: “What I can tell (him) is that all guidance was followed completely (during) Number 10 and can I recommend to (him) that he does the same with his own Christmas party, which is advertised for 15 December, to which unaccountably he’s failed to invite the deputy leader.”
The PM’s jibe about Sir Keir’s Christmas party is a reference to reports that the Labour leader has not invited Angela Rayner, his deputy, to festive drinks later this month.
“Nice try but that won’t work,” Sir Keir hit back.
“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’re very clear.
“You must not have a work Christmas lunch or party. Does the prime minister really expect the country to believe that while people were banned from seeing their loved ones at Christmas last year, it was fine for him and his friends to throw a boozy party in Downing Street?”
Mr Johnson replied: “I’ve said what I’ve said about Number 10 and the events of 12 months ago, but since he asks about what we’re asking the country to do this year which I think is, frankly, a more relevant consideration.
“The important thing to do is not only to follow the guidance which we have set out, but also when it comes to dealing with the Omicron variant to make sure that, as we have said, that you wear a mask on public transport and in shops, and that you self-isolate if you come into contact with somebody who has Omicron, and, above all, what we’re doing is strengthening our measures at the borders, but particularly… get your booster.”
:: Subscribe to the All Out Politics podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford told MPs that the Daily Mirror has legal advice on “potential illegality” in relation to the Christmas party allegation.
“Last Christmas the prime minister hosted a packed party in Downing Street. An event that broke lockdown rules,” he said.
“The prime minister might be denying it but I’ve spoken to the Mirror newspaper this morning and they are confirming what happened, and they have legal advice on potential illegality.
“At a time when public health messaging is so vital, how are people possibly expected to trust a prime minister when he thinks it’s one rule for him and one rule for everybody else?”
Mr Johnson accused Mr Blackford of “talking total nonsense”, adding: “I think he would have been better off, frankly, saying something about the victims of storm Arwen in Scotland.”
Dr Saleyha Ahsan, a spokesperson for the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign group, said: “To hear that around the time my dad was admitted and the rest of the country was enduring long, brutal lockdowns, the prime minister was partying with big groups of mates, is horrific.
“You’re left wondering about the prime minister’s empathy for the rest of us.”
In the wake of the Daily Mirror report being published, a Number 10 spokesperson told Sky News: “COVID rules have been followed at all times.”
The original story claimed Mr Johnson did not attend the event in December held by members of his top team.
A spokeswoman for the PM’s wife Carrie Johnson denied she hosted the party or held any at the flat while restrictions were in place.
“This is total nonsense. Mrs Johnson has followed coronavirus rules at all times and it is categorically untrue to suggest otherwise,” she told the Mirror.
The Mirror alleges that around “40 or 50” people were crammed “cheek by jowl” into a room in Number 10 for both events.
Last November, the whole country was plunged into a second national lockdown for four weeks.
As a result, everyone was told to work from home where possible and indoor socialising was banned.
At the start of December 2020, London was in Tier 2 restrictions, which meant no household mixing indoors.
But on 16 December, two days before the second Downing Street party allegedly took place, London moved into Tier 3 restrictions where all indoor mixing was banned unless individuals were in household bubbles.
Downing Street staff are classified as key workers and have been throughout, with members working long hours to deal with the pandemic.
The offices are said to be COVID-secure.