Responding to a question about alleged Christmas parties at Downing Street during lockdown last year, Policing minister Kit Malthouse said: “I have been assured that no rules were broken. And so that means there is nothing to show. I don’t even know if an event took place, but if it did, no rules were broken.”
The Mirror reported that around “40 or 50” people were said to have been crammed “cheek by jowl” into a medium-sized room in Number 10 for a party in December 2020.
“It was a Covid nightmare,” one source claimed.
The BBC’s Laura Keunssberg later reported that there had been “several dozen” people in attendance, with food, drink and even party games on offer, with the event going past midnight.
Another Downing Street insider told the Financial Times that there were often get-togethers in the evenings in No. 10 while the country was in lockdown last Christmas. They said: “It was the only place you could get together and socialise. They happened most Fridays.”
Another source told the Mirror: “The Prime Minister gave the impression that it could be very relaxed in No. 10. He would either turn a blind eye, or on some occasions attend himself while everyone else was in lockdown.”
On the 16th December 2020, Boris Johnson said: “This Christmas it’s vital that everyone exercises the greatest possible personal responsibility.”
This was the same day that London went into tier 3 restrictions, which means that “No person may participate in a gathering” - unless it was reasonably necessary for work (UK Health Protection Regulations).
The guidance said: “Although there are exemptions for work purposes, you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primary social activity.” (Christmas period guidance 2020).
On the morning of the 18th December, on which the UK recorded 514 Covid-19 deaths, Boris Johnson tweeted: “If you are forming a Christmas bubble, it’s vital that from today, you minimise contact with people from outside your household.”
Hours after that tweet was posted, there was reportedly a Christmas party in Number 10 Downing Street.
An image was also shared by the Guardian of Boris Johnson, his wife Carrie Johnson and up to 17 staff in the Downing Street garden with what appears to be cheese and wine in May last year, as the whole country was in lockdown.
At the time social mixing between households was limited to two people, who could only meet outdoors and at a distance of at least two metres.
In workplaces, the guidance said in-person meetings should only take place if “absolutely necessary”.
It is hard to understand how the gatherings could have been within the rules, because any party would have been in breach of the guidance. Kit Malthouse was doing his best.