No kissing under the mistletoe, says minister, as Boris Johnson denies 'boozy' party broke Covid rules

Christmas parties this year should not see “much snogging under the mistletoe”, a Cabinet minister has said, as Boris Johnson faced questions over a Downing Street event that reportedly took place during last year’s lockdown.

No kissing under the mistletoe, says minister, as Boris Johnson denies 'boozy' party broke Covid rules
© James Manning/PA Wire Therese Coffey said: ‘I don’t think there should be much snogging under the mistletoe’ – James Manning/PA Wire

Despite insistence from the Prime Minister that festive parties this year should continue as normal, Therese Coffey said revellers should exercise caution, as Sajid Javid urged the public to take lateral flow tests before attending events.

“I don’t think there should be much snogging under the mistletoe,” Ms Coffey told ITV.

“Don’t need to do things like that. But I think we should all be trying to enjoy the Christmas ahead of us and that’s why we’re working so hard to get the deployment of as many vaccines as possible.”

Her comments came as Boris Johnson has insisted “all guidance was followed completely” after he was accused of breaking lockdown rules by hosting a Downing Street Christmas party last year.

The Prime Minister did not deny that a “boozy” event had taken place, with reports suggesting that around 50 staff held a festive quiz and exchanged secret Santa presents on December 18 last year. Tier 3 lockdown rules banned indoor socialising in London at the time.

The row came as Sajid Javid confirmed that he would take a lateral flow test (LFT) before attending a Christmas party this year, and suggested others may wish to do the same.

Despite Mr Johnson’s suggestion that Christmas festivities should continue as normal, Tory MPs said the existing measures were too strict and accused the Government of “goalpost shifting”.

“If you are invited to a Christmas party, there’s quite a few people there, maybe you want to take an LFT before you go,” Mr Javid told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Sir Keir Starmer accuses Prime Minister of breaking lockdown rules

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, accused Downing Street of “taking the British public for fools” over reports of parties in Downing Street last year. He insisted that any festive event would have been against the rules at the time.

The Daily Mirror reported that a Christmas drinks party took place on December 18. The next day, Mr Johnson cancelled Christmas for millions by placing swathes of the country, including London, into Tier 4.

Staff also attended a “leaving party” for a team member on November 27, The Daily Mirror reported.

In each case, the newspaper said, there were 40 or 50 people crammed “cheek by jowl” into a medium-sized room.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said he “did not recognise” the reports of the parties, but refused to deny they took place and would not comment further on why they did not constitute a breach of the rules.

The spokesman also refused to comment on whether Mr Johnson considered secret Santa presents and festive quizzes to be essential work.

At Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons, Sir Keir asked Mr Johnson: “As millions of people were locked down last year, was a Christmas party thrown in Downing Street for dozens of people on December 18?”

The Prime Minister replied: “All guidance was followed completely.”

Sajid Javid encourages Christmas partygoers to take lateral flow tests

On the Health Secretary’s suggestion that partygoers should take Covid tests, Downing Street insisted the Government’s guidance had not changed, but that Britons had been “encouraged” throughout the pandemic to make use of state testing facilities.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We do have a significant testing capacity and if people wanted further reassurance, they could use that.”

Mr Javid warned it “might take a bit longer than three weeks, it might be a bit sooner” for the Government to review the threat posed by the omicron variant.

He had vowed to reconsider the mask, self-isolation and travel rules introduced in recent days after three weeks, by December 20.

‘You can be too careful’ over Covid restrictions, say Tory MPs

His suggestion it could take ministers longer to gather data on omicron sparked alarm among lockdown-sceptic Tory MPs, who have demanded the Government scrap all new Covid restrictions on December 20 if there is no evidence by then that it is more dangerous than delta.

Steve Baker, deputy chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of lockdown sceptic Tory MPs, said the package of measures must be removed at the three-week review point unless there is proof of its need.

“I would scrap it on the basis there is insufficient evidence for making things worse for people. You can be too careful,” he said. “The Health Secretary really had better be sure that the collateral damage he is causing is worth it.

“This kind of goalpost shifting is groundhog day. Living with coronavirus at the present infection fatality rate really should be like living with flu. Of course, we don’t take LFDs for flu before going to parties.”

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers, agreed “there would be a good case” for removing the fresh restrictions on December 20 unless ministers have evidence justifying their continuation.

“We should move away from government mandate and towards people making their own choices with the best information,” he said.

“What we’ve seen throughout is where there has been legitimate cause for concern, people have taken their own precautions.”

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