As Britain announced tighter restrictions in the wake of omicron threat, lawmakers and citizens reacted angrily to a leaked video showing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s senior aides joking about breaching the lockdown to hold a Christmas party. The video, which went viral on social media, has fuelled criticism that the people in power are operating on a “dual-rule” system, in which the restrictive measures meant to curb the spread of Covid-19 are applicable only to the common folks.
It has opened up the Conservative government to criticism from lawmakers across the spectrum and the public as well.
What is the video?
The video in question is a 46-second clip, obtained by ITV, which shows Johnson’s former spokesperson Allegra Stratton joking about a Christmas party. Stratton is seen standing on a dais, conversing with Ed Oldfield, who is a Special Advisor to the PM, and other senior Downing Street staff.
The clip, which appears to be a rehearsal for a press conference, shows Stratton and the others joking about a lockdown party that the Conservative government insists did not take place. The party was reportedly held for staff at No 10 Downing Street, on December 18 last year and the footage was obtained on December 22, 2020, according to the Guardian.
It shows the officials laughing about the lack of social distancing in the party at a time when most of Britain was under a strict lockdown.
The transcript of the video is as follows:
Ed Oldfield: I’ve just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night, do you recognise those reports?
Allegra Stratton: I went home (laughs), hold on hold on, erm, err …
Oldfield: Would the prime minister condone having a Christmas party?
Stratton (laughs): What’s the answer?
Oldfield: I don’t know.
Unidentified Downing Street employee: It wasn’t a party … it was cheese and wine.
Stratton: Is cheese and wine alright? It was a business meeting.
Downing St employee: No, joking.
Stratton (laughs): This is recorded. This fictional party was a business meeting (laughs) and it was not socially distanced.
PM Johnson has maintained that he was unaware of the incident, and that he was “repeatedly assured there was no party and no Covid rules were broken,” according to the BBC. 10 Downing Street, where the party is said to have taken place, is the official residence of the Prime Minister.
The journalist-turned-politician said that he was “furious” about the clip. “I understand and share the anger up and down the country,” he said.
“I was also furious to see that clip,” he told lawmakers in the House of Commons. “I apologise unreservedly for the offense that it has caused up and down the country, and I apologise for the impression it gives.”
He said that an inquiry has been ordered and anyone found to have broken the rules would be disciplined.
Stratton, one of the prominent figures in the video clip, has since resigned. She had been serving as the climate change spokesperson of the Johnson government.
Speaking outside her home, Stratton referred to the “immense sacrifices” made by the British to fight Covid-19. “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,” she said.
“I understand the anger and frustration that people feel. To all of you who lost loved ones, who endured intolerable loneliness and who struggled with your businesses I am truly sorry,” she added.
Why the outrage?
The party is said to have taken place a week before Christmas, a time when many Brits were anguished by the strict ban on social gatherings. People in London had faced heavy fines for participating in illegal gatherings. The ban was projected as vital to limit the spread of Covid-19 which has claimed over 146,000 lives in Britain.
According to a Reuters report, the PM’s office has been trying to refute reports of the party for days now. The office gathering reportedly served wine and food and included games and gift exchanges at a time when social gatherings were banned in the rest of the country due to the pandemic.
Besides, this is the latest in a long list of allegations that point towards double-standards by the officials of Conservative government with regard to adherence to Covid guideline. Last year, Johnson’s top aide Dominic Cummings was under fire for driving to his parents’ place while Covid-positive, an action which violated the country’s ‘stay-at-home’ policy. More recently, in June, Health Secretary Matt Hancock was forced to resign after a leaked video clip showed him kissing an aide in violation of the social distancing rules.