'I wasn't there, PM wasn't there': Hancock grilled over 'No 10 party'
‘I wasn’t there!’ Matt Hancock says police should investigate ‘illegal’ No 10 Christmas party as he appears on GMB as part of comeback media tour six months after he was ousted for kissing aide in breach of social distancing rules
- The disgraced former health secretary repeatedly denied knowing about a party
- He said that he was not there and neither was Boris Johnson – ‘if there was party’
- It came as Sajid Javid was brutally ’empty chaired’ by the BBC when he cancelled
- The PM will today be interrogated about the alleged party at a blistering PMQs
Matt Hancock has claimed he did not know about an alleged lockdown-breaking Christmas party in Downing Street last year.
The disgraced former health secretary repeatedly denied knowing about the supposed meet up on December 18 until last night.
The backbencher, who was forced out of the Cabinet over an affair with his aide, said he was not there and neither was Boris Johnson – ‘if there was a party’.
But he suggested any Metropolitan Police investigation into the event was a matter for them to probe.
It comes after Sajid Javid pulled out of the media rounds this morning and was brutally ’empty chaired’ by the BBC.
Presenters Jon Kay and Sally Nugent cut to footage of their Westminster studio to show the Health Secretary was nowhere to be seen.
Meanwhile the PM will today be interrogated about the alleged celebrations after leaked footage showed his then spokesman joking about a festive gathering.
He faces a grilling in the Commons at PMQs, with Sir Keir Starmer expected to put the boot in for a second week running about what happened.
Matt Hancock has claimed he did not know about an alleged lockdown-breaking Christmas party in Downing Street last year
How the No 10 party is alleged to have taken place when millions of Britons were forced into near-lockdown
1. December 2 – London enters Tier 2 after second national lockdown banning social mixing indoors between households
2. December 10 – Gavin Williamson hosts Department for Education party for ‘up to 24 people’
3. December 16 – London enters Tier 3 restrictions banning all mixing of households except in parks
4. December 18 – Party for No 10 staff is allegedly held inside Downing Street for ‘dozens’ of staff
5. December 19 – Boris Johnson holds dramatic press conference putting London into Tier 4 and cancelling Christmas
6. December 20 – London officially enters Tier 4 restrictions at midnight
7. December 22 – Allegra Stratton jokes about Downing Street party during practice press conference which is recorded on video
8. January 6 – England enters third national lockdown
Mr Hancock tried to wash his hands of any wrongdoing this morning, saying he was not there and neither was Mr Johnson – ‘if there was a party’.
He suggested he had not heard about the alleged event in No 10 until the video broke last night.
He repeatedly denied he had any knowledge of what may or may not have happened at the event.
He told GMB: ‘I don’t know anything about the party. I’ve read the papers. But I don’t know anything else about it. I wasn’t invited. I wasn’t there.’
On if he had messaged anyone about the allegations, Mr Hancock said: ‘No, because I only found out about it late last night and then I got up pretty early this morning.’
He added: ‘What I know is that the Prime Minister said that no rules were broken. And nobody’s suggesting that he was at this party.’
Mr Javid pulled out of a series of media interviews this morning – meant to celebrate a year since the first vaccine was administered – after the clip emerged.
BBC Radio 4’s Today programme pointed out the Health Secretary had cancelled last minute while BBC Breakfast ’empty chaired’ him.
Presenter Mr Kay said: ‘Well usually at this time here on Breakfast we would be able to put your questions to Government minister at Westminster as part of a slot we’ve had on the programme pretty much every morning at 7.30 since the start of the pandemic.’
Ms Nugent said: ‘We had been hoping to speak to the Health Secretary Sajid Javid about the first anniversary of the Covid vaccine roll-out.
‘However, this morning no-one has been made available to speak to us.’
The camera panned to show the BBC’s Westminster studio, with Ms Nugent saying: ‘As you can see, there’s nobody there today.’
Mr Kay added: ‘That’s very unusual. The camera’s ready, the seat’s there. We can take an interview at any moment so if anything changes between now and 9.15 or later in the day we would love to hear from the Government.’
BBC Breakfast today decided to ’empty chair’ Sajid Javid for pulling out of national interviews in the wake of the Downing Street party video
Ed Oldfield (PM’s special adviser): ‘I’ve just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night, do you recognise those reports?’
Allegra Stratton: ‘I went home (laughs)… hold on, hold on, erm, err…’
Ed Oldfield: ‘Would the Prime Minister condone having a Christmas party?’
Allegra Stratton: ‘(laughs) What’s the answer?’
Ed Oldfield: ‘I don’t know!’
Downing Street Employee (unidentified): ‘It wasn’t a party… it was cheese and wine.’
Allegra Stratton: ‘Is cheese and wine alright? It was a business meeting.’
Downing Street Employee: ‘No! … was joking!’
Allegra Stratton: ‘(laughs) This is recorded. This fictional party was a business meeting… (laughs) and it was not socially distanced. Umm one more and then we’ll… one more. Anybody have any questions today?’
Labour leader Sir Keir said the leaked video of senior aides laughing about a ‘cheese and wine’ evening indicates the PM has ‘not been straight’ about the party claims.
Mr Johnson faces questions from his backbenches, with Sir Roger Gale declaring the situation bore ‘all the hallmarks of another ‘Barnard Castle’ moment’.
This was a reference to the Prime Minister’s former aide Dominic Cummings driving 260 miles during strict lockdown conditions last year.
The North Thanet MP tweeted: ‘No 10 clearly has some serious questions to answer. Fast.’
In footage obtained by ITV News last night, the PM’s then press secretary Allegra Stratton and adviser Ed Oldfield, joked about a ‘fictional’ NO party last December.
Ms Stratton is seen answering questions at a mock press conference on December 22 about a party the previous Friday.
The date of the alleged Covid rule-breaking gathering is said to have been attended by dozens of colleagues while social mixing indoors was banned in London.
Mr Oldfield asked 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 later-scrapped plan for Ms Stratton to lead press briefings, one aide said: ‘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 the story first emerged.
It was claimed two events took place in the run-up to the festive season last year, including Mr Johnson giving a speech at a leaving do in 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’.
Labour leader Sir Keir called for the PM to ‘come clean and apologise’ over the alleged party.
He said: ‘People across the country followed the rules even when that meant being separated from their families, locked down and – tragically for many – unable to say goodbye to their loved ones.
‘They had a right to expect that the Government was doing the same. To lie and to laugh about those lies is shameful.’
Ex-Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has been accused of throwing a ‘drinks and canapes’ event in his former department while London was under Tier 2 restrictions on December 10 last year. Mr Williamson is said to have given a short speech at the evening event before ministers ‘mingled’ and knocked back wine. One source described it as ‘reckless’
Meanwhile the Department for Education admitted it held a social gathering of staff in the lead-up to Christmas in contravention to coronavirus social-distancing rules.
The Mirror reported former education secretary Gavin Williamson threw a party and delivered a short speech on December 10 – while London was in Tier 2 restrictions.
A DfE spokesman said: ‘While this was work-related, looking back we accept it would have been better not to have gathered in this way at that particular time.’
The controversy comes as the booster jabs booking system opened on Wednesday to people aged 40 and over.
Official figures showed 101 additional cases of Omicron have been reported across the UK – including the first cases in Northern Ireland – with the total now at 437.
Wednesday also marks exactly a year since the first coronavirus vaccine was given in the UK.
Now Gavin Williamson admits hosting his own lockdown-breaking Christmas bash: Ex-minister ‘welcomed up to two dozen staff for drinks and canapés at Department for Education on Dec 10 – as nation rages over claims of Downing Street party
- The then education secretary allegedly threw a party for staff in London and delivered a short speech
- It was on December 10 while London was in Tier 2, which banned indoor social mixing between households
- Party involved staff ‘already present at the office and who had worked together throughout the pandemic’
- One source described the event as ‘reckless’, and the DfE has admitted that the social gathering took place
- It came as video emerged of No 10 officials joking on December 22 about another lockdown-busting party
Gavin Williamson was today accused of holding a Christmas party for ‘up to two dozen people’ within the Department for Education at their offices in contravention of Covid-19 social distancing rules at the time.
The then education secretary allegedly threw a party and delivered a short speech at the event on December 10 last year, which took place while London was in Tier 2 – banning any indoor social mixing between households.
Amid claims in the Daily Mirror that the event featured drinks and canapés, Government officials said the party involved staff who were ‘already present at the office and who had worked together throughout the pandemic’.
Mr Williamson is said to have spoken at the evening event before ministers ‘mingled’ and drank wine. One source described it as ‘reckless’, and the DfE has admitted that the social gathering took place.
Officials also said the gathering was ‘used to thank those staff for their efforts during the pandemic’, although they ‘accept it would have been better not to have gathered in this way at that particular time’.
A source said: ‘There were lots of people gathered in the cafe area, mingling and drinking wine.’ Another added: ‘He hosted a drinks do when people were considering whether they could spend Christmas with their families.’
It came as Downing Street was in crisis this morning after a video emerged of officials joking on December 22 last year about another lockdown-busting party days earlier on December 18 which they insist never happened.
Former education secretary Gavin Williamson (left) is pictured outside Downing Street on November 25 this year. He allegedly held a Department for Education Christmas party at their offices in the Sanctuary Buildings in London (right)
A DfE spokesman told MailOnline: ‘On December 10, 2020 a gathering of colleagues who were already present at the office – and who had worked together throughout the pandemic, as they couldn’t work from home – took place in the DfE office building in London at a time when the city was subject to Tier 2 restrictions.
‘The gathering was used to thank those staff for their efforts during the pandemic. Drinks and snacks were brought by those attending and no outside guests or supporting staff were invited or present.
‘While this was work-related, looking back we accept it would have been better not to have gathered in this way at that particular time.’
The video of the second party on December 22 shows Boris Johnson’s former press secretary Allegra Stratton giggling and laughing as she is asked about the event during a mock media conference.
The footage was filmed last December 22 – four days after the alleged ‘boozy’ party and when London was under strict Tier 3 coronavirus curbs.
Separately, a video emerged of No 10 officials joking about another lockdown-busting party. It shows Boris Johnson’s former press secretary Allegra Stratton giggling and laughing as she is asked about the event during a mock media conference
The revelation follows a week of tortured denials from No 10 over allegations that staff exchanged ‘secret Santa’ gifts and partied past midnight.
The damning clip, which was leaked to ITV News, shows Miss Stratton and aides joking about cheese and wine and suggesting the ‘fictional’ event was ‘not socially distanced’.
Miss Stratton, who is still on the No 10 payroll earning £125,000 a year, was practising for planned TV media briefings, which were later axed.
At the time of the alleged event, on December 18, Christmas parties were outlawed – on pain of £10,000 fines – and many families were even barred from visiting dying loved ones. Mixing indoors with people from other households was banned in the capital.
Downing Street was still insisting last night that there had been ‘no Christmas party’ and that coronavirus rules were followed at all times. But ministers were aghast at the crass video, with one privately describing it as ‘appalling’.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits HMP Isis in Greenwich, South East London, yesterday
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is pictured outside Downing Street on December 1 this year
Insiders fear the release of the toxic footage could unleash a wave of public anger, similar to the fury over the trip to Barnard Castle by Dominic Cummings at the height of the first lockdown.
A Downing Street insider acknowledged the video was a ‘disaster’, adding: ‘No 10 aides laugh at their party as thousands cry for their dead.’
Becky Kummer, of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said: ‘There are simply no words to describe how upsetting and shameful it is to hear Boris Johnson’s team laughing about breaking the rules they had made, while 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.’
Scotland Yard said it was aware of the new footage. It is understood that a senior officer looking at the matter will now consider the contents of the video in the coming days. No investigation has been launched.
‘Gonna party like it’s Downing Street in LOCKDOWN’: Twitter erupts with fury and mocking memes after video shows No10 staff joking about ‘illegal’ festive bash during Tier 3 shutdown
- Newly surfaced footage showed special advisors holding fake press conference
- Allegra Stratton is seen laughing as she rehearsed answer about the Xmas party
- Revelation sparked fury among both Labour and Tory MPs and the wider public
Social media was once again flooded with memes mocking Boris Johnson and No10 after fresh evidence surfaced suggesting staff did hold a Christmas party during lockdown last year.
Twitter users tried to find the funny side as they suggested what the scene might have looked like in Downing Street last winter.
Mr Johnson was compared to Pinocchio and Mr Blobby while others highlighted the fact no government minister was put up for broadcast interviews to discuss the matter this morning.
Footage last night emerged of Downing Street aides joking about branding their own Christmas party as a ‘business meeting’ to hide the fact it broke Covid laws.
A newly surfaced video shows No10 special advisors taking part in a fake press conference just days after the alleged December 18 event last year which has raised legal questions and denials of wrongdoing from No10.
The clip, discovered by ITV news, shows Allegra Stratton, then the PM’s press secretary, and Ed Oldfield, No10’s head of digital, rehearsing a question and answer session in the No9 briefing room.
In it Oldfield asks a question about ‘a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night’, to which Ms Stratton laughs and replies: ‘I went home.’
When he asks if the Prime Minister would condone such a party, Ms Stratton appears unsure how to respond and asks the room: ‘What’s the answer?’
A third voice can be heard saying ‘it wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine’, before Ms Stratton added: ‘It was a business meeting … this fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced.’
The footage was released after Boris Johnson had earlier refused to answer questions about the gathering, with questions raised over whether it breached social distancing rules in place at the time.
The Metropolitan Police has said it was aware of the footage and is considering an investigation into the alleged breaches of Covid-19 regulations in government buildings last December.
Asked about it on a visit to a London prison yesterday, Mr Johnson would only say that all the rules had been followed at the time. Other ministers have refused to confirm if a party happened or not.
Sir Keir Starmer responded to the footage of Downing St aides joking about the party by saying that Boris Johnson needed to ‘come clean and apologise’.
The Labour leader said: ‘People across the country followed the rules even when that meant being separated from their families, locked down and – tragically for many – unable to say goodbye to their loved ones.
‘They had a right to expect that the government was doing the same.
‘To lie and to laugh about those lies is shameful. The Prime Minister now needs to come clean, and apologise.
‘It cannot be one rule for the Conservatives and another for everyone else.’
In response to the footage, a Downing Street spokesman said: ‘There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times.’
The leaked footage was shot in the media room at 9 Downing Street, which was refurbished at a cost of £2.6 million in preparation for the televised broadcasts before the plan was ditched.
Parties were banned under Covid restrictions at the time. Mr Johnson has not confirmed or denied reports that members of his Downing Street team staged a party on December 18 last year when London was under Tier 3 restrictions but he has insisted that no rules were broken.
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