The footage showed Boris Johnson’s then spokesperson Allegra Stratton joking that the “fictional party” was a “business meeting”, while fellow aides jokes that guests had enjoyed “wine and cheese”. Stratton added that there was “definitely no social distancing”.
The mock media briefing, said to have been recorded on December 22, shows Stratton’s colleagues pose a series of questions to help her rehearse for the proposed – and now dropped – daily TV briefings.
The segment was broadcast on Tuesday evening on ITV, and presenter Tom Bradby did not mince his words when he branded the leak a “car crash” for the government’s reputation.
“Meanwhile Downing Street staff were rehearsing their new press secretary for the planned televised press conferences. One asked a bit of a jokey question about a party allegedly held four nights before.”
In the clip, advisor to the prime minister Ed Oldfield asked his colleague 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 quipped that she went home, before laughing and pausing to consider her answer.
Oldfield followed up to ask if the prime minister would condone having a Christmas party. Stratton laughed and asked “what’s the answer?”
The staff joke about the event being a “business meeting” with cheese and wine.
Continuing the joke, she said “this is recorded” and laughed more. She added: “This fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced.”
After the clip finished playing, Bradby added: “One thing is for sure, not many people are going to be laughing tonight. After days of denials and obfuscations about the party this is an absolute car crash for the government’s reputation.”
Since the segment aired, Bradby has been praised for his candid take on the leaked footage, with several saying his disgust reflected “the mood of the nation”.
Tom Bradby reflecting the mood of the nation!👍🏻 #itvnewsat10 #ChristmasParty #ToryLies https://t.co/fJRGrngfGU
As well as health secretary Sajid Javid pulling out of national interviews, vaccines minister Maggie Throup is understood to have pulled out of a planned round of regional television interviews.
The prime minister has repeatedly insisted that rules were followed in Downing Street since the claims first emerged about the party and, in response to ITV’s report, a Downing Street spokesman said: “There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times.”
However, during PMQs this afternoon, Johnson apologised for the “offence” caused by the leaked video and said he was “furious” to see the clip.
He said he had asked cabinet secretary Simon Case “to establish all the facts and to report back as soon as possible – and it goes without saying that if those rules were broken then there will be disciplinary action for all those involved”.
He said: “I apologise unreservedly for the offence that it has caused up and down the country and I apologise for the impression that it gives.
“I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken.”