Boris Johnson’s Christmas quiz wasn’t a party as there was no alcohol, says Tory minister

Prime minister pictured socialising during lockdown flanked by colleagues draped in tinsel

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Sunday 12 December 2021 10:03 GMT
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions at the Houses of Parliament, in London, Wednesday, 8 December, 2021.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions at the Houses of Parliament, in London, Wednesday, 8 December, 2021. (AP)

A Cabinet minister has defended leaked images of Boris Johnson hosting a Christmas Quiz in Downing Street during lockdown– arguing that it was within the rules.

Nazhim Zahawi, who was vaccines minister at the time of the event, said the gathering could not have been a party because no alcohol was present.

In images reported by the Daily Mirror the prime minister can be seek flanked by colleagues covered in tinsel – but Mr Zahawi claimed the gathering broke no rules because "they work with him".

"What do we see in that picture? We see a prime minister on a virtual quiz night for 10 to 15 minutes, to thank his staff – who by the way had no choice but to come in every single day," Mr Zahawi told Sky News.

"Sitting in his office with the two people who are closest working with him, no alcohol on the table, not drinking – on a zoom call or teams call, virtual call – respecting the lockdown rules.

"Many people would have had similar zoom quiz nights around the country. They are in his office, they work with him."

Asked why the colleagues were dressed in Christmas garb, Mr Zahawi told the BBC: “I don’t think there’s a rule against recognising Christmas with tinsel or a hat.”

Tory minister Nadhim Zahawi defends the government’s Christmas quiz (BBC )

Social events outside household bubbles were banned under government rules at the time, including with colleagues who might otherwise have been working together.

Official guidance stated: “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.”

It comes after over a week of anger about a separate party held at Downing Street, which is now the subject of an investigation by the Cabinet Secretary.

Boris Johnson's Conservatives have tanked in the polls ahead of a key by-election test on Thursday, with speculation that rivals in the party could be eyeing his job.

The prime minister's political opponents rounded on the latest revelations. Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Daisy Cooper said: "This slew of rule-breaking revelations leaves Boris Johnson with nowhere left to hide.

"The British public did what they were asked, often at huge personal cost, but over the last year, it seems that Johnson and his cronies flouted rules, laughed about it, and are now desperately trying to cover it up.

"Johnson is destroying public trust at every turn. For every day he remains in No 10, he undermines the national effort to accelerate the booster programme and hold the line against Omicron. Johnson just needs to go."

Labour leader Keir Starmer told the BBC: “I do think that new allegations is very serious. The reason it's serious is because at the time the public was asking people not to see loved ones, and many of them didn't see loved ones. That's why this has created such fury.

“I remember it was only Wednesday that the prime minister stood up in parliament and said he was furious that he'd just found out there were breaches of the rules.”

Asked whether the prime minister was breaking the law, Sir Keir said: “It looks as though he was ... it’s very hard to see how that’s compliant with the rules.”

But Sir Keir declined to call for Mr Johnson to resign. Pressed on whether the PM should go, he said: “We need to look at the allegations. It’s only one of the allegations and establish the facts.”

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