PM advisor makes tearful resignation statement as investigation is launched into No 10 party

Boris Johnson has apologised and a senior aide has quit over footage showing Number 10 advisers joking about a Downing Street Christmas party during the coronavirus lockdown.

The Prime Minister has ordered an investigation into claims staff broke lockdown rules by holding a Christmas party last year and told MPs he was “furious” about the footage apparently showing aides laughing about it.

Allegra Stratton, who was the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman, resigned after the leaked clip emerged, offering “profound apologies” and saying she would “regret those remarks for the rest of my days”.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly insisted that rules were followed in Downing Street since the claims first emerged about the December 18 2020 party.

However, at Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons he said he based that position on assurances from junior staff.

Mr Johnson said he had asked Cabinet Secretary Simon Case “to establish all the facts and to report back as soon as possible – and it goes without saying that if those rules were broken then there will be disciplinary action for all those involved”.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson 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.”

In a tearful statement outside her home, Ms Stratton apologised for her appearance in footage recorded just days after the alleged party.

She had been taking part in a mock press conference in preparation for the planned White House-style televised briefings she would front – a project which was ultimately abandoned.

In the footage obtained by ITV News, Ms Stratton and adviser Ed Oldfield, along with other aides, were filmed joking about a “fictional” Downing Street party.

A laughing Ms Stratton said: “This fictional party was a business meeting … and it was not socially distanced.”

Her appearance in the briefing room was in stark contrast to her emotional statement on Wednesday, where she told reporters: “My remarks seemed to make light of the rules, rules that people were doing everything to obey.

“That was never my intention. I will regret those remarks for the rest of my days and I offer my profound apologies to all of you at home for them.”

Ms Stratton, who had been working as Mr Johnson’s spokeswoman for the Cop26 climate summit, said she understood people’s “anger and frustration”.

“To all of you who lost loved ones, who endured intolerable loneliness and who struggled with your businesses, I am truly sorry and this afternoon I am offering my resignation to the Prime Minister.”

Timeline: How the Downing Street ‘party’ row unfolded

Downing Street insists “there was no Christmas party” in relation to a staff gathering in December 2020 at which drink was consumed, festive jumpers were reportedly worn and gifts were exchanged.

Here is a look at what happened and who said what about the event which took place during a coronavirus lockdown.

December 16 2020

London is placed under Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions, the highest level of curbs on freedoms at the time, with a ban on people from different households mixing indoors.

December 18 2020

Staff in Downing Street are believed to have held a Christmas party, with reports that dozens of people attended the event, some wearing festive jumpers and exchanging Secret Santa presents.

December 22 2020

The Prime Minister’s spokeswoman Allegra Stratton is filmed at a mock press conference answering questions about a Downing Street Christmas party. The footage did not emerge for almost a year.

December 1 2021

The Daily Mirror reveals the Christmas party took place, reporting that “officials knocked back glasses of wine during a Christmas quiz and a Secret Santa while the rest of the country was forced to stay at home”.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson said “all guidance was followed completely”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “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?”

December 2 2021

Business Minister George Freeman says: “I can absolutely assure you that No 10 staff followed the guidance,” adding: “I can’t get drawn into who was or wasn’t in the room and who was drinking which cocktail. You’ll understand I wasn’t there.”

December 3 2021

Tory chairman Oliver Dowden says: “My focus has not been on having conversations about what may or may not have happened over a year ago in Downing Street. I have, however, been assured by what the Prime Minister has said, which is that the rules at all times were obeyed in Downing Street.”

December 4 2021

The Metropolitan Police says it is considering the correspondence it had received in relation to the Christmas party and an earlier gathering in November 2020 which the Prime Minister reportedly attended.

December 5 2021

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab says “if there was a formal party held, of course that is something that is clearly contrary to the guidance”, but insisted he did not know the truth of the reports based on “unsubstantiated claims all on the basis of anonymous sources”.

December 6 2021

Policing Minister Kit Malthouse says: “I asked the question: ‘Were all the regulations complied with?’ I was reassured they were, I have to take that at face value. That’s absolutely what I’m sure is the case; it’s for others if they want to decide to take it further.”

December 7 2021

Mr Johnson says: “I am satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times.”

Footage of Ms Stratton’s December 2020 mock press briefing is obtained by ITV News, showing the Prime Minister’s then spokeswoman joking with colleagues about how to respond to questions about a Christmas Party, suggesting “it was a business meeting … and it was not socially distanced”.

Downing Street responds: “There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times.”

The Metropolitan Police says the footage “will form part of our considerations”.

December 8 2021

Mr Johnson apologised “unreservedly” for the offence caused by the footage from the mock press conference and ordered Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to investigate the circumstances around the December 18 event.

But in a sign that he may blame junior staff for the situation, Mr Johnson said he had “been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”.

He said Mr Case’s investigation would “establish all the facts” and “if those rules were broken then there will be disciplinary action for all those involved”.

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