BORIS Johnson’s top aide Allegra Stratton has resigned in tears this afternoon just hours after bombshell footage showed her laughing about a lockdown-busting Christmas party at No10.
The PM earlier said he was “sickened” by the leaked video of his senior advisers joking about the alleged illegal gathering last year.
Boris Johnson apologised as he appeared for the first time since the footage emerged[/caption]
In an emotional statement outside her home Ms Stratton apologised and quit her job as COP 26 spokeswoman.
But Labour boss Sir Keir Starmer joked “Ant and Dec are ahead of you” in a reference to their I’m A Celebrity jibe at the beginning of last night’s show.
In an attempt to diffuse the growing unease from his backbenchers, he told MPs he “shared the anger” of millions of people upon seeing that video and stressed “I was also furious to see that clip.”
The PM, flanked by Rishi Sunak and Brandon Lewis, said: “I understand and share the anger up and down the country at seeing No 10 staff seeming to make light of lockdown measures, and I can understand how infuriating it must be to think that people who have been setting the rules have not been following the rules because I was also furious to see that clip.
“I apologise unreservedly for the offence that it has caused up and down the country and I apologise for the impression that it gives.
“But I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken, and that is what I have been repeatedly assured.”
But he insisted again he has been told that there was “no party” and he thinks all the rules WERE followed.
Anyone found to have broken any rules will face displinary action, he said.
“There will be consequences for those involved if those rules were broken,” he stressed.
The PM went on to say: “There is a risk of doing a grave injustice to people who have frankly obeyed the rules.
“That is why the Cabinet Secretary will be conducting an investigation, and that is why there will be requisite disciplinary action if necessary.”
It came as:
- No10 denied the PM had been at the December 18 party
- Dominic Cummings alleged there had been other bashes in Downing Street while under strict lockdowns – with the PM denied
- The PM’s spokesperson was unable to say if Sir Simon Case, who will investigate the December 18 event, was at the event himself or not
- Tory MPs called for Allegra Stratton to be booted, but the Government stressed she was still in her job, along with the others in the video
Sir Keir Starmer said people felt like they were being “taken for fools” and had “been lied to”.
“The situation is as clear as day,” he said.
“They knew it was a party, they knew it was against the rules. It’s obvious it happened.
“Ant and Dec are ahead of the Prime Minister on this one.
“He’s been caught red handed – why doesn’t he just admit it?”
He also told the story of a woman who “followed the rules” and didn’t visit her mum last December when she was in hospital, shortly before she died.
And he brought up the example of the Queen who was forced to sit alone at her husband’s funeral, saying the PM no longer has the “moral authority to lead”.
The PM slapped down accusations from Labour and the Lib Dems as “playing politics” and vowed to get on with the job of PM.
Ministers went to ground this morning – pulling out of all broadcast interviews.
Sir Keir Starmer lashed out and said he was taking the public for fools[/caption]
And furious Tory MPs broke ranks to demand an apology and explanation.
Top MP Jake Berry said he was “amazed that Allegra Stratton is still in a job”, adding, “I don’t like to see people sneering at my constituents.”
But No10 insisted this lunchtime that she was still in her job, the PM still had confidence in her, and no one in the video was currently being investigated.
Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace came out today to say he was “repulsed” by the clip.
He told The Sun: “I think all of us who have seen that video and felt pretty repulsed by it and angry about what was going on.
“For me, you know, we all had to follow the rules.
“When people let us down it is incredibly disappointing.”
He stressed: “I know that the Prime Minister will be determined to take any action is necessary.”
Downing St still insists that “there was no Christmas Party” on December 18 last year when Tier 3 restrictions in London forbid indoor gatherings.
The Government is sticking to its denials despite video leaked to ITV showing the PM’s top aides laughing about enjoying “cheese and wine”.
At a mock press conference in the No9 briefing room Mr Johnson’s then press secretary Allegra Stratton practised taking questions about the party.
Ms Stratton – now the PM’s COP26 spokeswoman – joked that the party “was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced.”
Meanwhile, a separate video emerged of Jacob Rees-Mogg joking about the Christmas party at an another event.
Mr Rees-Mogg told a drinks reception on Monday evening: “I see we’re all here obeying regulations, aren’t we?”
He joked: “I mean, this party is not going to be investigated by the police in a year’s time. You are all very carefully socially distanced..
“We have moved, I am pleased to tell you, from the metric back to the Imperial system: I notice you are all at least two inches away from each other which is, as I understand it, what the regulations require.”
Senior Tory MPs earlier this morning turned the screw on Downing Street to come clean about the alleged festive bash.
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Robert Halfon said: “I certainly think that those who were doing the video should apologise for the insensitivity of it when people were suffering and struggling all through that time.”
Tobias Ellwood called for the country’s top civil servant to investigate the video.
Veteran Tory Sir Roger Gale said the episode had “all the hallmark of another Barnard Castle moment”, referencing Dominic Cummings’ alleged breach.
Others say the alleged breach should rule out any lockdown restrictions this Christmas.
Ex-Health Secretary Matt Hancock took Mr Johnson at his word, telling GMB: “What I know is that the Prime Minister said that no rules were broken. And nobody’s suggesting that he was at this party.”
His successor Sajid Javid was supposed to the usual round of breakfast interviews this morning but pulled out amid the chaos. BBC Breakfast even empty-chaired the Health Secretary.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss ignored questions on the way to a speech she was making in central London.
One government source said the entire debacle was an “absolute s***show”.
In footage of the fake presser, obtained by ITV, one of the PM’s advisers asked: “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 joked: “I went home!” before she paused to consider how to respond.
The aide added: “Would the prime minister condone having a Christmas party?”
Ms Stratton, who was due to lead daily political press briefings in the £2.5million press room before the plan was ditched earlier this year, laughed and replied: “what’s the answer?”
Another No10 staffer popped up to say: “It wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine.”
Ms Stratton added: “Is cheese and wine alright? It was a business meeting…”
She went on to warn her colleagues the mock briefing “is recorded” and “this fictional party was a business meeting, and it was not socially distanced”.
The video was taken on December 22, just days after the alleged gathering was said to have taken place in No10.
Ministers and the Government have repeatedly denied that a bash took place in the heart of Government when London was under Tier 3 restrictions – meaning gatherings were banned.
In-person business meetings were allowed but only when strictly necessary, and had limits on numbers.
Just days later Tier 4 was introduced, cancelling Christmas for millions.
The PM was grilled again on the bash last night, saying: “I am satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times.”
Downing Street said in response to the leaked footage last night: “There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times.”
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A Met Police spokesman said: “We are aware of footage obtained by ITV News relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at a Government building in December 2020.
“It is our policy not to routinely investigate retrospective breaches of the Covid 19 regulations, however the footage will form part of our considerations.”
Sir Keir Starmer blasted the relevations as “shameful” and called on the PM to come clean and say sorry now.
The Labour boss 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.”
Nearly two in three Brits think the rules were broken, and 63 per cent say Boris should apologise, Savanta ComRes polling showed.
And former Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was accused of hosting a party for staff in the department – just days earlier.
A bash with drinks and canapès was held on December 10 2020 for staff to thank them for their work over the pandemic, as officials frantically tried to keep schools open and prepare for mass testing in the new year.
But one source played down the reports saying: “I’ve never seen a canapé in the DfE.”
Tier 2 rules in place in London at the time stated no mixing with other households except for work purposes.
A Department for Education spokesman said: “On 10th December 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 Sun has approached Mr Williamson for comment.