Bereaved families' anger at No 10 staff video joking over Christmas party
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A campaign group for people who lost loved ones to Covid-19, co-founded by the daughter of a Norfolk man, has slammed the prime minister after leaked footage showed his aides joking about an alleged lockdown-busting Downing Street Christmas party.
In footage obtained by ITV News, the Boris Johnson's then-press secretary Allegra Stratton and adviser Ed Oldfield, along with other aides, were filmed joking about a “fictional” Downing Street party in December 2020.
Ms Stratton is seen answering questions at a mock press conference on December 22 about a party the previous Friday – the date of an alleged Covid rule-breaking gathering in Downing Street, said to have been attended by dozens of colleagues while social mixing indoors was banned in London under Tier 3 restrictions.
Mr Johnson is likely to face a grilling over the claims at question time today.
The footage has prompted anger, including from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Group.
That group was co-founded by Jo Goodman, 32, following the death of her father Stuart, from Norwich, at the age of 72.
Miss Goodman was one of five bereaved family members who spoke to the prime minister at a private meeting in September, where he spoke of his commitment next year to a public inquiry into the pandemic.
In a statement, the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Group, 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.
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"There are simply no words to describe how upsetting and shameful it is to then 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.
"Leaders set the culture of an organisation, and the PM has set a culture where breaches of the rules are laughed about and the rules only apply to some.
"Is it any wonder we’ve had over 160,000 deaths when the people in charge joke about it like it doesn't apply to them?
"How can we have faith in this government to protect us from the new variant?
"Is there anyone left across this country who truly believes the rules weren't not broken at this Downing Street party.
"It's clear what needs to happen now.
"Prime minister: tell the truth"
Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, said the leaked video of senior aides laughing about a “cheese and wine” evening indicates that the prime minister has “not been straight” about claims of a festive get-together, with some reports claiming it featured alcohol and “secret Santa” present-giving.
In the footage, Mr Oldfield can be heard asking Ms Stratton: “I’ve just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night, do you recognise those reports?”
Ms Stratton replied “I went home” before appearing to consider what the correct answer should be.
During the rehearsal, filmed as part of a subsequently-abandoned plan for Ms Stratton to lead televised press briefings, one aide is heard saying: “It wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine.”
“Is cheese and wine all right? It was a business meeting,” Ms Stratton replied, to laughter in the room.
Ms Stratton then noted “this is recorded”, adding: “This fictional party was a business meeting... And it was not socially distanced.”
The Metropolitan Police confirmed officers are reviewing the leaked video in relation to “alleged breaches” of coronavirus regulations.
In response to ITV’s report, a Downing Street spokesman said: “There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times.”
Ministers are yet to explain how the alleged bash complied with the rules in place at the time, despite coming under pressure since an initial report in the Daily Mirror.
The newspaper said two events took place in No 10 in the run-up to the festive season last year, including Mr Johnson giving a speech at a leaving do during November’s lockdown.
The other was said to be a staff party in December where party games were played, food and drinks were served, and revelries went on past midnight.
At the time, the Tier 3 rules explicitly banned work Christmas lunches and parties where it is “a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted”.