Steven Barrett

No, the Downing Street party probably didn’t break the law

(Photo: Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street)

Was the law broken at the Downing Street Christmas party last year? A video has now been leaked showing a No. 10 advisor joking about the festivities. Yet this incident, which is currently dominating the news, almost certainly did not break the law – which is why the story is so perplexing.

During the course of the pandemic, the Covid laws have changed regularly. Yet one thing has stayed largely consistent: the rules have always treated people and places differently. Despite what some might claim, there’s nothing sinister in this. And it’s for this reason that the ‘cheese and wine’ gathering – which the PM has said did not take place – probably isn’t a matter for the police.

During the course of the pandemic, the Covid laws have changed regularly

The starting point in the Covid rules should be section 73 of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. This part of the Act states that the Covid regulations, at all times, never applied to Crown Land (which includes No. 10). This only changed if No. 10 made a written agreement to be voluntarily bound – and no one thinks they did. So the regulations almost certainly never applied to No. 10 anyway.

Why would this be? The reason is simple: in the 1980s, lawmakers decided that it would be better to allow the government to function during any future national pandemic without having to worry about being caught up in quarantine regulations. The thinking was that by making the government effectively exempt in law, the government could continue to function.

In addition to the 1984 Act, there were also specific regulations that applied at the time of the alleged party: the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020. According to these rules, gatherings were allowed in all public buildings, or parts of them ‘operated by a business, a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution or a public body.’

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