Downing Street have spent the week trying to play down reports of a secret No. 10 party last Christmas when the rest of the country was under restrictions. They have tried a few tactics: at Prime Minister's Questions last week, Boris Johnson didn't deny the event had taken place but insisted all Covid guidance had been followed. When that failed, the Prime Minister's spokesman went on the record saying there had been no party. Then today the blame shifted to civil servants: with briefings that it was an event mainly made up of officials rather than political appointees.
Those responses are unlikely to hold much weight going forward. This evening, ITV has released footage of senior Downing Street staff joking in a practise televised press briefing about holding a Christmas party in No. 10. The conversation occurred just four days after the event is alleged to have taken place on 18 December. In the video, the then No. 10 spokeswoman Allegra Stratton, who left the role before giving a public televised briefing, is asked by special adviser Ed Oldfield: 'I’ve just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night, do you recognise those reports?'
In response, Stratton says she 'went home' and laughs before appearing to consider what the correct answer would be. The Downing Street aide in the audience then asks: 'Would the prime minister condone having a Christmas party?' Stratton asks what the correct answer is before another Downing Street aide suggests saying 'it wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine'. On being advised that cheese and wine is not okay, Stratton describes it as a 'business meeting' before noting that they are being recorded. At that point she concludes in a joking manner: 'this fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced'.
In response to ITV's story, a Downing Street spokesman continued to insist there was no party: 'There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times'. That would suggest aides in Downing Street are implying the joking was unrelated to any real life event.
But as a letter also emerges which appears to contradict Boris Johnson's claim earlier today not to have ordered ministers to rescue dogs from Afghanistan (thereby prioritising animals over human lives), Mr S suspects Downing Street denials aren't going to have the desired effect in the future. As MPs and aides message one another in shock at the video, will Johnson and his team change tack and apologise?