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Boris under pressure over Downing Street parties

LONDON, DEC 12 (PTI) | Publish Date: 12/12/2021 1:58:34 PM IST

 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson came under growing pressure on Sunday as an image emerged of another alleged party held at Downing Street in December last year at a time when social mixing was banned due to the COVID-19 lockdown rules. ‘The Sunday Mirror’ published a picture of Johnson at a so-called Christmas quiz, which it said took place on December 15, 2020. Downing Street admitted the UK PM “briefly took part virtually” to thank staff for their work during the pandemic.  But the Opposition Labour Party declared it was a breach of the rules in place at the time.  

“What do we see in that picture? We see a Prime Minister on a virtual quiz night for 10 to 15 minutes to thank his staff, who by the way, had no choice but to come in every single day,” UK Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told ‘Sky News’ in defence of his boss, the Prime Minister.  

“Sitting in his office are the two people who are closest working with him, no alcohol on the table, not drinking, on a Zoom call or a teams call, a virtual call respecting the lockdown rules. Many people would have had similar Zoom quiz nights around the country,” he said. The image is from when England was under Tier 2 restrictions, banning indoor household mixing, apart from support bubbles. 

Official guidance at the time stated: “You must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier.”

According to the ‘Sunday Mirror’, workers who took part in the Christmas quiz reportedly huddled around computers, with groups said to have broken rules on gatherings, and drinking alcohol bought from a nearby supermarket.  

A No. 10 Downing Street statement said: “This was a virtual quiz. Downing Street staff were often required to be in the office to work on the pandemic response so those who were in the office for work may have attended virtually from their desks. “The Prime Minister briefly took part virtually in a quiz to thank staff for their hard work throughout the year.” The latest Downing Street party adds to an already brewing controversy around breach of lockdown rules at the Prime Minister’s office after a video emerged earlier of senior staff joking about a “fictional party” on December 18. 

It resulted in the tearful resignation of Allegra Stratton, a senior UK government spokesperson. 

Another reported Downing Street event – an aide’s leaving which is said to have taken place on November 27 – was allegedly also attended by the UK Prime Minister, who has since called an internal inquiry led by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to investigate the facts around these alleged gatherings last year.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer declared that it looks as though Johnson had breached the legal COVID restrictions in place at the time.  

“To see Downing Street making the rules, then breaking rules, then treating the public as fools and laughing at them, I think runs very, very deep with the British public,” said Starmer.  

“The Prime Minister’s lost the authority to lead. He’s so weak, his party’s so divided, he can’t provide the leadership we need at this crucial time. He’s the worst possible leader at the worst possible time,” he said.  

Johnson also looks set to face a substantial rebellion from within his own Conservative Party, with more than 60 Tory MPs poised to vote against the imposition of extra COVID-19 measures in Parliament next week.  

On Friday, 10 Downing Street cancelled its planned 2021 Christmas party later this month amid growing anger over the issue and growing concerns over the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. 

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