British Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologised and his adviser resigned on Wednesday after a video surfaced showing his staff laughing and joking about a party in Downing Street during a Christmas COVID-19 lockdown last year when such festivities were banned.
For more than a week, Johnson and his team have repeated that no rules were broken in late 2020 after the Mirror newspaper reported there had been several parties to mark Christmas.
On Wednesday, he said he was furious about the video, which was shown by ITV late on Tuesday, but that he had been repeatedly assured there had not been a party.
With reports that the government could implement tougher COVID-19 measures as early as Thursday to try to slow the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant of the coronavirus, it could also persuade many people to ignore any new rules.
“I apologise unreservedly for the offence that it has caused up and down the country and I apologise for the impression that it gives,” Johnson told parliament.
Disciplinary action would be taken if it was found that rules were broken, he said.
“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.”
In leaked footage aired by ITV on Tuesday, Allegra Stratton, who is Johnson’s press secretary was shown at a 2020 Downing Street rehearsal for a daily briefing laughing and joking about a reported gathering.
In the video, a Johnson adviser asked Stratton, “I’ve just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night – do you recognise those reports?”
Stratton, standing before British flags at an official Downing Street lectern, said, “I went home.” She then laughed and smiled. “Hold on. Hold on. Um. Er. Arh.” She appears lost for words and looks up.
EXCLUSIVE: Video obtained by ITV News shows Downing Street staff joking about a Christmas party on 18th December last year.
No 10 has spent the past week denying any rules were broken. This new evidence calls that into question. pic.twitter.com/nKYK0tG0dQ
— Paul Brand (@PaulBrandITV) December 7, 2021
Stratton, who was most recently the government’s COP26 climate summit spokesperson, tendered her resignation on Wednesday.
In a tearful statement, Stratton acknowledged that her comments “seemed to make light of the rules” and said she would “regret those remarks for the rest of my days”.
“I understand the anger and frustration that people feel,” she said, while not specifying whether a party took place.
At the time of the Downing Street gathering, tens of millions of people across the United Kingdom were banned from meeting close family and friends for a traditional Christmas celebration.
London’s Metropolitan Police force said officers were reviewing the leaked video in relation to “alleged breaches” of coronavirus regulations.