UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces charges from illicit parties during lockdown

The staff of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared to joke about hosting a Christmas party last year as much of the country faced severe COVID-19 restrictions, in a leaked video released by the ITV broadcaster.

As the Christmas holiday season begins in Britain, Mr Johnson’s government grapples with mixed messages about COVID-19 while denying reports it has broken the rules on staff beating it up. last year.

Mr Johnson has faced questions and criticism since the Mirror newspaper reported last week that there had been numerous social gatherings at Johnson’s office at 10 Downing Street over the Christmas period in 2020 .

The Daily Mirror reported that Mr Johnson gave a speech at a crowded departure party for a senior assistant in November – after a nationwide lockdown went into effect.

Then, members of his team – without Mr Johnson being present – threw an unofficial festive party before Christmas, after indoor mixing was banned in London, the newspaper reported.

Mr Johnson insists COVID guidelines were followed at all times.
(AP: Christopher Furlong)

Last December Mr Johnson announced in a last-minute U-turn a ‘stay at home’ order for London and the south-east of England, forcing millions to cancel their Christmas plans .

This year there will be no limit on the number of guests and “nothing in the rules to prevent anyone from hosting Christmas parties or meeting in any way,” his spokesperson said. .

“Are cheese and wine right for you?” “

In the video from December 22 of last year, Mr Johnson’s staff hold a mock press conference and appear to be joking about hosting a Christmas party.

Allegra Stratton, who was Mr Johnson’s press secretary and is now his spokesperson for the COP26 climate conference, laughs as she pushes back questions about a “Christmas party in Downing Street on Friday night”.

She asks “Are the cheese and the wine okay?” when a member of staff suggests it as an alternative to the word “party”, before adding “this fictitious party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced”.

Opposition Labor Party leader Keir Starmer said the video was an insult to those who followed the lockdown rules as it meant being separated from their families over Christmas.

UK Labor leader Heir Starmer walks out of church
Mr Starmer asks Mr Johnson to apologize.(AP: Alberto Pezzali)

“They had a right to expect the government to do the same. Lying and laughing at these lies is shameful,” Starmer said in a statement.

“The Prime Minister must now tell the truth and apologize.”

Speaking before ITV released the video, Mr Johnson said he was satisfied that no COVID lockdown restrictions had been breached.

“The guidelines were followed at all times,” Mr Johnson told broadcasters on Tuesday (local time).

“I made sure the guidelines were followed at all times.”

In response to the new Omicron variant, the UK has banned flights from South Africa and other countries in the region, reintroduced the mandatory wearing of the mask in certain contexts and accelerated the deployment of its booster. .

However, despite scientists advising the government on tackling viruses and suggesting people are considering changing some of their festive social plans, ministers appear divided on the issue.

Mixed messages, “careful snugging”

Mr Johnson insisted that events, including traditional office parties, can take place, saying last week the government did not want to “make people feel like they need to start canceling things.”

Moments after receiving his reminder, he promised a “balanced and proportionate” approach, promising: “Christmas this year will be much better than Christmas last year.”

Business Secretary George Freeman told Times Radio his department “isn’t going to have a big Christmas party this year.” No one would expect us to do that ”.

Pedestrians wear face masks when crossing the road in London
British health officials are urging people to avoid large groups.(AP: Alberto Pezzali)

He also told the BBC that companies that typically organize large parties might ask themselves this year: “Does that make sense, given the pandemic and given where we are at?”

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey told ITV on Wednesday: “For what it’s worth, I don’t think there should be much smooching under the mistletoe.”

She added that this should be avoided with “people you don’t already know”.

His message was quickly contradicted by Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who said “people can kiss whoever they want” while urging them to “just be safe and have fun”.

This led to jokes on social media about how to heed government advice on “smooching cautions.”

Penelope Toff, chair of a British Medical Association health committee, said people should be encouraged to “avoid large groups” and wear face masks in public spaces indoors, except when sit down to eat and drink.

Reuters / AFP

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Edward L. Robinett