British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been accused of presiding over a “culture of disregard for the rules” after a picture emerged of him flanked by colleagues hosting a Christmas quiz in Downing Street while London was under coronavirus restrictions.
The image, reported by the Mirror newspaper on Sunday, shows a screen with the prime minister sitting in front of a laptop in Downing Street.
The prime minister’s office said Johnson had “briefly” taken part “virtually” in the quiz.
The festive event was reported to have taken place on December 15 last year, three days before an alleged rule-breaking Christmas party at Downing Street, which is currently being investigated by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case.
The opposition Labour party’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “While the rules said that people shouldn’t have Christmas parties at work and Britons across the country were doing the right thing, Boris Johnson was instead happy to preside over a culture of disregard for the rules at the heart of Government.
“Despite repeated denials of parties in Number 10, it now transpires that there were numerous parties, gatherings and the prime minister even took part in a festive quiz.
“Boris Johnson really believes it’s one rule for him, another for everyone else. He is a man unfit to lead this country.”
The development comes after Johnson last week announced tougher COVID-19 restrictions in England, ordering people to work from home, wear masks in public places and use vaccine passes to slow the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
Other gov’t gatherings
Official guidance at the time stated: “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.”
At the time of the quiz, London was in tier two, which directed there should be no mixing of households indoors, apart from support bubbles, and a maximum of six people outside.
The Mirror quoted a source who claimed many staff were huddled by computers, conferring on questions and drinking alcohol while the quiz was taking place.
It reported Johnson surprised staff by turning up on screen as quiz master for one round lasting between 10 and 15 minutes.
A spokesperson for Downing Street said: “This was a virtual quiz.
“Downing Street staff were often required to be in the office to work on the pandemic response so those who were in the office for work may have attended virtually from their desks.
“The prime minister briefly took part virtually in a quiz to thank staff for their hard work throughout the year.”
The quiz reports come as Case, who is also head of the Civil Service, investigates three alleged rule-breaking government gatherings last winter.
Staff reportedly held a Christmas bash in No 10 on December 18, with a leaked video – filmed four days after the alleged drinks – showing senior Downing Street aides joking about a “fictional” party.
A second reported Downing Street event – an aide’s leaving do which is said to have taken place on November 27 – was allegedly attended by the prime minister, who the Mirror said made a speech.
Case is investigating both alleged events, along with a festive celebration arranged at the Department for Education, which officials have expressed regret over.
‘King of comebacks’
The accusations come as a poll showed support for Johnson and his Conservative Party appeared to plummet, with a majority of voters thinking he should now resign.
The Opinium poll for the Observer newspaper found support for the Conservatives, who have held solid leads in polls since winning a landslide victory in a 2019 election, had fallen four points to 32 percent, while backing for the opposition Labour Party rose to 41 percent, its biggest lead since 2014.
Johnson’s personal ratings were also at their lowest point since the election, with his approval rating at -35 percent, down 14 points from two weeks ago. The poll also showed that 57 percent of voters thought he should resign, up from 48 percent two weeks ago.
“The findings of our latest poll are certainly dramatic, with a devastating fall in both support for the Conservatives and approval for the prime minister,” said Adam Drummond, Head of Political Polling at Opinium.
He cautioned that Johnson was the “king of comebacks” who had recovered from difficult polling situations before.
“However, unless the Conservatives can turn these numbers around quickly, backbenchers might start asking if the party is over for the prime minister,” he said.