Why U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson Is in Hot Water Over a Christmas Party

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has faced backlash after imposing tighter COVID-19 restrictions amid allegations that a Christmas party breaking COVID-19 rules was held in 2020 at 10 Downing Street (also known as Number 10), the official residence and executive office of the prime minister.

The alleged party would have breached COVID-19 restrictions in place at the time, which banned social gatherings such as parties.

The government guidance at the time read: "Although there are exemptions for work purposes, 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."

Some have questioned whether the newly instated COVID-19 restrictions on Wednesday were intended to be a distraction from the latest allegations made against Number 10.

Why Is Boris Johnson in Hot Water?

Johnson has been accused of lying following the release of a video obtained by Britain's ITV News in which senior Downing Street staff members were heard joking about a party at Number 10 (which was allegedly held on December 18, 2020). It has not been suggested that Johnson was at the party.

For the past week, Johnson as well as senior ministers and staff at Number 10 have denied any COVID-19 rules were broken on December 18, 2020.

The video, recorded during a rehearsal for a press briefing for December 22, shows staff making comments about "cheese and wine" and Johnson's then spokesperson Allegra Stratton noting there was "definitely no social distancing."

Downing Street said no party took place and that "COVID rules have been followed at all times," while several ministers appeared on television and radio to reiterate the denials.

An unnamed source told the BBC earlier this week that a party with "several dozen" people in attendance took place at 10 Downing last December.

Initial reports claimed that a "boozy" Christmas party took place at Downing Street, according to the U.K. tabloid The Mirror, with around 40 to 50 people allegedly in attendance.

Another unnamed source aware of the alleged Downing Street party told ITV News: "We all know someone who died from COVID and after seeing this all in the papers I couldn't not say anything. I'm so angry about it all, the way it is being denied."

Johnson Says He Was 'Assured No COVID Rules Were Broken'

The U.K. prime minister faced heated criticism from members of parliament (MPs) during this week's Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs), a session held every Wednesday at midday allowing MPs to question the prime minister.

Johnson apologized for the video during the latest PMQs, saying he took "full responsibility for everything the government has done," according to the BBC.

The prime minister apologized "unreservedly" for the offense caused by the clip, saying that he was "furious" about it.

However, he also suggested he was misled about the alleged December 18 Christmas party, claiming he was "repeatedly assured that there was no party and that no COVID rules were broken," said Johnson said.

Stratton has resigned from her position following the video leak and issued an apology. Offering her "profound apologies" in a statement, she said she would "regret those remarks for the rest of my days.

"My remarks seemed to make light of rules, rules that people were doing everything to obey. That was never my intention," she said.

Latest U.K. COVID Restrictions

On Wednesday, Johnson rolled out the details for "Plan B," the next step in the country's COVID-19 combat strategy following the spread of the Omicron variant in the U.K.

According to a December 8 statement from the prime minister's office, Omicron has "a very high growth rate and is spreading rapidly," with early analysis suggesting cases may be doubling at a rate of as little as 2.5 to 3 days.

The latest COVID-19 rules include the following, as outlined by the prime minister's office.

Mandatory Face Masks

Face coverings will be required from December 10 in most public indoor venues, such as cinemas, theaters and places of worship. Some exceptions apply. See the U.K. government website for more information.

Working From Home

Those who can will be advised to work from home from December 13.

Mandatory National Health Service (NHS) COVID Pass

Subject to parliamentary approval, from December 15, the NHS COVID Pass on the NHS app will become required for entry into nightclubs and settings with large crowds (including unseated indoor events with 500 or more attendees, unseated outdoor events with 4,000 or more guests and any event with 10,000 or more people).

The app will allow people to demonstrate proof of their two COVID-19 vaccine doses.

"Having considered the evidence since the emergence of Omicron, proof of a negative lateral flow test will also be accepted," the government stated.

Parliament will debate the latest measures next week, with a vote to be held on December 14.

The regulations will expire six weeks following implementation, with a review after three weeks, the government said.

Newsweek has contacted the U.K. prime minister's office for further comment.

Boris Johnson at 10 Downing press conference.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a press conference at 10 Downing Street on December 8, 2021 in London, England. Adrian Dennis-WPA Pool/Getty Images)