The footage showed the Prime Minister’s then-press secretary taking part in a rehearsal Q&A session with a Number 10 colleague playing a journalist last December. The video, leaked to ITV, now has 5.5 million views on Twitter alone. ITV News at Ten (about 2.5 million viewers) began with furious host Tom Bradby telling the nation: “They literally look as if they are laughing at us. You, me, all of us.” The situation has left the Prime Minister in a difficult position.
At the time, the allegation that a Christmas party had taken place was denied.
Number 10 said: “There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times.”
Labour has condemned the leak, with Sir Keir Starmer saying: “Incredible. They had a party. They knew it broke the rules. They joked about how to deceive us”
The Labour leader added: “They knew they couldn’t say the Prime Minister condemned it. Because he didn’t. All while they cancelled Christmas for the rest of us.”
Meanwhile SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford has called for Mr Johnson to resign over the scandal, with Liberal Democrat co-leader Sir Ed Davey calling for an inquiry.
Disquiet is starting to manifest itself in increasingly hostile briefings from both inside Government and the Tory benches.
A Downing Street official told the Financial Times: “It’s pretty disastrous, the Government and PM denying it and then this footage leaks out saying otherwise.”
A Whitehall source told the BBC: “It looks hypocritical. It looks like PM doesn’t know what is going on or the operation is so shambolic that they thought that was acceptable.”
Another Government source said it was: “As bad as the Dominic Cummings road trip for sure.”
A more frank source told the Telegraph: “We are f***ed.”
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Veteran Tory backbencher Roger Gale tweeted: “The No.10 party has all the hallmarks of another ‘Barnard Castle’ moment. No.10 clearly has some serious questions to answer. Fast.”
Tory MP Tobias Ellwood told BBC Newsnight that the PM “has to get ahead of this story” and called for Cabinet Secretary Simon Case or “another senior independent voice” to investigate.
It’s not impossible that Mr Johnson will have to implement new Covid restrictions in the weeks ahead.
The emergence of the Omicron variant of the virus has already seen the Government implement strands of the so-called Plan B measures, by making face masks mandatory on public transport and in shops.
There have been reports for a few days that officials are drawing up plans to implement restrictions including working from home over the Christmas period.
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One of the chief concerns in Whitehall is the perception of rule-breaking in Government will negatively affect compliance with any measures.
Tory MP Charles Walker said: “The No. 10 party means that any future lockdowns will be advisory, whatever the law says.”
The latest embarrassment comes as the Tory Party deals with the fallout of the sleaze scandal.
The “Tory sleaze” crisis recently saw the party forced to own up and expose MPs having highly paid second jobs.
After being found to have engaged in paid advocacy for two companies, one of which received Covid testing contracts, Owen Paterson resigned as the Conservative MP for North Shropshire.