Boris Johnson aide Allegra Stratton resigns over lockdown party comments

Boris Johnson aide Allegra Stratton resigns over lockdown party comments

Allegra Stratton speaking outside her home in north London where she announced that she has resigned as an adviser to Boris Johnson and offered her "profound apologies" after footage emerged of her when she was the British Prime Minister's spokeswoman at a mock news conference apparently showing Downing Street aides joking about a Christmas party held during last year's lockdown. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Allegra Stratton has resigned as an adviser to Boris Johnson and offered her “profound apologies” in an emotional statement after footage emerged of her joking about a Downing Street Christmas party.

MS Stratton apologised for her remarks about the Christmas party as she made a tearful resignation statement outside her home.

Quitting her role as the British prime minister’s spokeswoman for the Cop26 climate summit she said: “My remarks seemed to make light of the rules, rules that people were doing everything to obey.

“That was never my intention. I will regret those remarks for the rest of my days and I offer my profound apologies to all of you at home for them.”

Ms Stratton told reporters: “Working in government is an immense privilege.

“I tried to do right by you all, to behave with civility and decency and up to the high standards you expect of Number 10.” She said she understood the “anger and frustration” people feel.

“To all of you who lost loved ones, who endured intolerable loneliness and who struggled with your businesses, I am truly sorry and this afternoon I am offering my resignation to the Prime Minister.”

Johnson apologises for offence caused by aides joking about Christmas party

Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to attend Prime Minister’s Questions (PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to attend Prime Minister’s Questions (PA)

Boris Johnson has ordered an investigation into claims Downing Street staff broke lockdown rules by holding a Christmas party last year and told MPs he was “furious” about footage apparently showing aides joking about it.

The British prime minister apologised “unreservedly” for the offence caused by the footage of his then-spokeswoman Allegra Stratton at a mock press conference.

But he insisted he had been repeatedly assured “there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”.

Mr Johnson 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”.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson said: “I understand and share the anger up and down the country at seeing No 10 staff seeming to make light of lockdown measures, and I can understand how infuriating it must be to think that people who have been setting the rules have not been following the rules because I was also furious to see that clip.

“I apologise unreservedly for the offence that it has caused up and down the country and I apologise for the impression that it gives.

“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, and that is what I have been repeatedly assured.”

Mr Johnson’s intervention followed a week of official insistence that no party took place on December 18, 2020, when London was under Tier 3 restrictions – despite reports staff drank alcohol and exchanged secret Santa gifts.

Allegra Stratton laughs in the footage as she appears to rehearse answers to questions over a lockdown-busting Christmas party (PA)

Downing Street’s official line has now shifted with the announcement of the Case inquiry, with the British prime minister’s press secretary declining to repeat the statement that “there was no party”.

She said “it wouldn’t be right to comment further” while Mr Case was investigating.

Number 10 would not give a timetable for Mr Case’s investigation to conclude but Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said “we want it to be as soon as possible”.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said Boris Johnson’s apology “raises more questions than answers” as he had been “caught red-handed”.

“Millions of people now think the Prime Minister was taking them for fools, that they were lied to. They are right aren’t they?”

Labour leader Keir Starmer said Boris Johnson’s apology “raises more questions than answers” as he had been “caught red-handed”. Picture: House of Commons/PA Wire
Labour leader Keir Starmer said Boris Johnson’s apology “raises more questions than answers” as he had been “caught red-handed”. Picture: House of Commons/PA Wire

In response to questioning from Mr Starmer, the Prime Minister agreed that any evidence uncovered by the Cabinet Secretary about parties in Downing Street would be handed over to police.

Leaked footage from No 10’s £2.6 million press briefing room emerged on Tuesday night which showed former press secretary Ms Stratton laughing as she appeared to rehearse answers to questions over a lockdown-busting Christmas party.

The video, which is reported to be from December 22 last year, refers to a party on “Friday” – which would have been December 18, the same day The Daily Mirror reported there was a staff party where games were played, food and drinks were served, and revelries went on past midnight.

The emergence of the footage – in which Ms Stratton and aides joked about how to respond to questions on the party – fuelled anger on the Tory benches about Mr Johnson’s Number 10 operation.

Charles Walker, a former vice-chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, said the British government is likely to now find it “almost impossible” to introduce “very proscriptive” Covid-19 restrictions due to the saga.

It comes amid suggestions ministers are considering moving to Plan B measures in England, such as calling for people to work from home and implementing vaccine passports.

Mr Walker told Times Radio: “I think now that, going forward, any measures will be advisory. I think it would be very difficult to enshrine them in law and then once again ask our poor police forces to enforce them.”

Former minister Tracey Crouch, MP for Chatham and Aylesford, demanded an apology, Kent Online reported.

She said: “I am fuming. My constituents have every right to be angry.”

Fellow Tory Peter Aldous, MP for Waveney, said the leaked footage looks “very bad” and casts “the situation in a different light”.

Tory peer and former Conservative Party chairwoman Sayeeda Warsi said all those present at any party should quit.

Chairman of the Commons Education Committee and Tory MP for Harlow Robert Halfon said: “I certainly think that those who were doing the video should apologise for the insensitivity of it when people were suffering and struggling all through that time.”

In a sign of further potential difficulties for Mr Johnson, his former aide Dominic Cummings – who has become a prominent critic – suggested Mr Case’s investigation should look at parties in the Prime Minister’s Downing Street flat.

In the footage obtained by ITV News, Ms Stratton and adviser Ed Oldfield, along with other aides, were filmed joking about a “fictional” Downing Street party.

Mr Oldfield can be heard asking 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 as part of a subsequently-abandoned plan for Ms Stratton to lead televised press briefings, one aide is heard 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 Metropolitan Police confirmed officers are reviewing the leaked video in relation to “alleged breaches” of coronavirus regulations.

More in this section

IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox