Boris Johnson could face questions on the prospect of new rules at Prime Minister’s Questions this lunchtime, where he will also come under fire for the video footage released yesterday which appeared to show top advisers joking about a Downing Street party
The new set of restrictions is said to be under consideration in response to the new Omicron variant, which is spreading across the UK.
Downing Street sources have insisted “no decisions have been made” but there is speculation that an announcement to the public could be imminent.
A prominent member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned that a full UK-wide lockdown to deal with the threat of the Omicron variant cannot be ruled out, although the current threat posed by the strain remains unclear.
Any move to impose fresh restrictions would be viewed with suspicion in Westminster at a time when Boris Johnson is under pressure over allegations No 10 staff breached lockdown rules by holding a Christmas party last December.
Footage obtained by ITV News and released on Tuesday, appeared to show the Prime Minister’s then-press secretary Allegra Stratton and adviser Ed Oldfield, along with other aides, we laughing about a “fictional” Downing Street party in December 2020.
Mr Oldfield asked Ms Stratton: “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 replied “I went home” before appearing to consider what the correct answer should be.
During the rehearsal, filmed in No 9 Downing Street as part of a subsequently-abandoned plan for Ms Stratton to lead televised press briefings, Mr Oldfield pressed her for an answer.
“Would the Prime Minister condone having a Christmas party?” he asked.
Ms Stratton asked “what’s the answer” and staff in the press room appeared to suggest ideas, with one saying “it wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine”.
“Is cheese and wine all right? It was a business meeting,” Ms Stratton replied, to laughter in the room.
Ms Stratton then noted “this is recorded”, adding: “This fictional party was a business meeting … and it was not socially distanced.”
The clip follows a story that first appeared in the Daily Mirror last week, it has been reported that there were two gatherings in Downing Street last winter while the country faced varying degrees of restrictions.
One, a leaving party in November during the second national lockdown which the Prime Minister has said to have spoken at.
And the other, on December 18, when officials and Downing Street staff are said to have shared nibbles and party games just hours before London and swathes of the South East were plunged into Tier 4 restrictions, effectively cancelling Christmas for millions.
The video, which has already been watched online millions of times, is said to have been taken on December 22.