Labour leader Keir Starmer has accused Boris Johnson of “taking the British public for fools” after the prime minister failed three times to deny that a Christmas party was held in Downing Street last year when Britain was in lockdown.
Mr Johnson said no coronavirus rules were broken but he did not deny a report in the Mirror about the event on December 18th that featured a quiz and the exchange of “secret Santa” gifts.
“The defence seems to be ‘no rules were broken’. Well, I’ve got the rules that were in place at the time, prime minister, of this party. They are very clear – you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party,” Sir Keir said during prime minister’s questions.
“Does the prime minister really expect the country to believe that whilst people were banned from seeing their loved ones at Christmas this year it was fine for him and his friends to throw a boozy party in Downing Street?”
The Mirror reported that Mr Johnson gave a speech at a leaving party for a senior aide in Downing Street on November 27th last year, during the second coronavirus lockdown. By the time of the second party the following month, indoor gatherings were banned and no more than six people could meet outdoors.
‘Cheek by jowl’
The newspaper said there were between 40 and 50 at each of the parties, packed “cheek by jowl” into a medium-sized room.
“All guidance was followed completely,” Mr Johnson said.
He said Labour should focus on the battle against the Omicron variant and join him in calling on people to take up their booster vaccinations rather than dwelling on events a year ago. But Sir Keir said the prime minister’s behaviour mattered.
“The prime minister says we should concentrate on what he is asking the country to do. We are asking the country to follow the rules. Now, the prime minister doesn’t deny there was a Downing Street Christmas party last year. He has not denied it. He says no rules were broken. Both of those things can’t be true prime minister. He is taking the British public for fools,” he said.
Sir Keir also accused the prime minister of making a “worthless” promise when he pledged to build 40 new hospitals. Citing a report from the cabinet office and the treasury, the Labour leader said the hospital building project had been given a red flag because it was unachievable.
“The more we look at this promise, the murkier it gets. I’ve got a document here sent by the department of health to the NHS. It’s called the ‘new hospital programme communications playbook’ – I kid you not. It offers advice to make it easier to talk about the programme,” he said.
“This guide instructs everybody to describe refurbishments and alterations on existing hospitals as new hospitals. We can all agree that refurbishments are a very good thing, but they’re not new hospitals. How many of the 40 are fix-up jobs on existing hospitals and how many are actually the new hospitals he promised?”