不 10 parties raise questions about whether PM will follow Covid science

Cast your minds back to 15 可能 2020. 马特·汉考克, the then health secretary before he quit for breaking restrictions by having an affair, was giving a press conference where he said people should be “staying at home as much as is possible”.

Social interaction was strictly limited to outdoors and one person at a time. It was the week when people were told they could meet one parent outside, in a socially distanced way, but not both of them together.

The protracted lockdown had begun to have an effect on the R number, which was teetering just below 1, and ministers had signalled that curbs would begin to ease in the coming weeks. The government had shifted its slogan from “stay at home” to “stay alert”, and set out a hope that schools would begin to open up maybe in June, and perhaps even bars and restaurants by July.

It was in this context that about 20 civil servants and aides gathered in Downing Street for what, one source claimed, 曾是 a “wine and pizza” party that went on late into the night. And instead of questioning whether this was a good idea, a witness alleges Johnson told one person attending, who had a drink in their hand, that they deserved a drink for “beating back” the virus.

In one way it is no surprise, after claims have emerged of six other parties held by Tory aides or civil servants when restrictions were in force. But the disclosure of an alleged party held during the first lockdown raises questions about whether there was a culture of persistently flouting the rules that continued during the Christmas period of 2020.

Since the Daily Mirror broke the first story of the apparent No 10 Christmas party in December 2020, and Johnson’s appearance at what has been claimed was a leaving do in November 2020, a steady stream of damaging details have emerged. There was the revelation that Jack Doyle, now the No 10 director of communications, handed out awards and that it was pre-planned with secret Santa gifts given out.

Then there was the photo of Johnson presiding over a third event – a Christmas quiz over Zoom – where staff crowded around desks while answering questions in teams.

The Department for Education admitted straight away to having held a Christmas party, acknowledging it was unwise, while the Treasury owned up to “impromptu drinks” consumed by staff around their desks.

The Conservative party headquarters confirmed it launched an internal investigation after finding that Shaun Bailey, the London mayoral candidate, and members of his team had held a party in a basement during lockdown around Christmas last year. Bailey later resigned from a London policing committee, after a photo of the merrymaking with a catered buffet was published.

In contrast, 不 10 has been evasive about the allegations as each one has emerged, repeatedly asserting that “all Covid rules were followed”. It was only forced into an inquiry by Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, after a video was leaked to ITV showing Allegra Stratton, Johnson’s former press secretary, laughing and joking about the Christmas party and suggesting it could be passed off as a business meeting.

This appears to be No 10’s strategy still, when presented with the testimony of sources who say there was drinking and socialising in Downing Street on 15 可能. Johnson and others were working outside, 我刚刚采访了戈登布朗,和他有一个大巴尼, with officials there late into the evening for business purposes.

然而, there was no on-record denial that a social gathering took place, nor any refutation of Johnson’s words that suggested he approved of the drinking in Downing Street that night, when the prime minister appeared to believe he was on the verge of victory against a virus that is threatening a deadly wave 19 几个月后.

Downing Street is now exceptionally wary of bringing back limits on social contact – partly because many Tory MPs will not stand for it. But there will also now always be the suspicion that No 10’s own cavalier attitude to the lockdown rules will have made Johnson more reluctant to follow the science and public health advice that suggests tougher curbs are necessary.

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