Did the Johnson clan breach lockdown rules last December? That's the question being asked in Westminster today after a profile in Harper's Magazine of Carrie Johnson reported that her close friend Nimco Ali spent Christmas in 10 Downing Street with the couple, despite pandemic restrictions on holiday gatherings. At the time, London was under Tier 4 Covid rules which meant Christmas bubbles were scrapped at the last minute and individuals advised to limit their social interactions as much as possible.
When the claims first emerged, they received a furious slap down from all sides. A No. 10 spokesman announced that the Prime Minister and Mrs. Johnson 'follow coronavirus rules at all times' while Ali took to social media to declare it an 'untrue story' and state 'I did not break any rules but you all knew that and just wanted a reason to tweet hate'.
Only a few hours later and it's clear these responses only tell half the story. When pressed in a lunchtime lobby briefing, the Prime Minister's spokesman wouldn't deny that Ali spent some of the Christmas period with the couple. They say, however, that this was within the rules as the Prime Minister and Carrie Johnson were in 'a childcare bubble with Nimco Ali over Christmas last year'. It was reported in January that Carrie's mother was in a 'household' bubble with her daughter.
Under the Covid rules, childcare bubbles cannot be used for socialising: 'You can only use a childcare bubble for childcare. You cannot use a childcare bubble to mix with another household for other reasons'. That means no mince pies with the Prime Minister or champagne with her close friend Carrie. Now it's clear that Ali is a busy woman these days – juggling her charity work with her £350-a-day gig as a Home Office adviser on tackling violence against women and girls (the role was not publicly advertised). But even Steerpike is impressed if her portfolio now includes childcare over public holidays.
As claims emerge in the Daily Mirror alleging that Carrie's mother was also present (something No. 10 denies), is the Downing Street version of events beginning to unravel? Or is it simply the case that if you are the one making the rules it's easier to know how to use them to your advantage?