Boris Johnson was referring to a series of allegations about Christmas parties being held in Downing Street when much of the country was in lockdown. The guidance at the time 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 2020, 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.
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 each of two parties during 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.”
Later, an image was 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”. Police are investigating 12 alleged Downing Street or Whitehall events. One of them took place in the Prime Minister’s Downing Street flat (a claim which has been described by the Prime Minister’s wife Carrie as "totally untrue").
In her interim report, published on 31st January 2022, Sue Grey stated that "At least some of the gatherings represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time."
The Prime Minister may have been telling the truth when he claimed to have been “repeatedly assured” there was no party and Covid rules were obeyed. It is, however, hard to understand how the gatherings could have been within the rules, because any party would have been in breach of the guidance.
We approached Mr Johnson’s office, the Cabinet Office and the No 10 Press Office to give them a chance to comment, but no reply.