LONDON â€” Boris Johnsonâ€™s staff joked about a Christmas party at Downing Street at the height of last yearâ€™s coronavirus lockdown in England, newly-released video footage shows.
It comes after the U.K. prime ministerâ€™s office spent days denying claims, first reported in the Mirror, that a party was held for staff last Christmas.
The film â€” published by ITV News on Tuesday night â€” shows senior No.10 employees taking part in a December 2020 rehearsal for a press briefing.
Ed Oldfield, adviser to the prime minister, asks Johnsonâ€™s then-spokesperson Allegra Stratton: â€œIâ€™ve just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night. Do you recognize those reports?â€
In the footage, Stratton replies â€œI went home,â€ before composing herself and telling colleagues to â€œhold onâ€ as she appears to consider what her answer should be.
Oldfield then asks: â€œWould the prime minister condone having a Christmas party?â€
Stratton laughs, looking down, before responding, â€œwhatâ€™s the answer?â€ Staff then attempt to help the PMâ€™s then- spokesperson formulate a response. â€œIt wasnâ€™t a party, it was cheese and wine,â€ suggests one.
The Times carried a story Tuesday saying a party in No. 10 had been organized by civil servants and included a secret Santa. Press reports suggest 30 to 40 people were in attendance, at a time when social events including parties were strictly banned under Englandâ€™s coronavirus restrictions.
Ministers have been repeatedly quizzed about the claims, which have been condemned as â€œsickeningâ€ by a campaign group representing the families of COVID victims.
Johnson was asked about the allegations last week and did not deny outright that a party took place. But he insisted â€œall guidance was followed completely in No. 10.â€
Downing Street has since given a more categorical denial, with a spokesperson saying in response to the leaked video: â€œThere was no Christmas party. COVID rules have been followed at all times.â€
Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said: â€œThe prime minister now needs to come clean and apologise. It cannot be one rule for the Conservatives and another for everyone else.â€