An adviser to British prime minister Boris Johnson has quit after a video surfaced of her laughing and joking about a party in Downing Street during a Christmas Covid-19 lockdown last year when such festivities were banned.
Allegra Stratton, who was most recently Johnson's Cop26 spokeswoman, was his press secretary at the time the video was recorded in December 2020.
In the video aired by ITV, Stratton was shown at a rehearsal for a daily briefing laughing and joking about a reported gathering at a time when tens of millions of people across Britain were banned from meeting family and friends to celebrate Christmas, or even from bidding farewell to dying relatives.
EXCLUSIVE: Video obtained by ITV News shows Downing Street staff joking about a Christmas party on 18th December last year.
No 10 has spent the past week denying any rules were broken. This new evidence calls that into question. pic.twitter.com/nKYK0tG0dQAdvertisement
— Paul Brand (@PaulBrandITV) December 7, 2021
"My remarks seemed to make light of the rules, rules that people were doing everything to obey. That was never my intention. I will regret those remarks for the rest of my days," a tearful Stratton told reporters outside her home.
"I understand the anger and frustration that people feel. To all of you who lost loved ones, who endured intolerable loneliness and who struggled with your businesses – I am truly sorry and this afternoon I am offering my resignation to the prime minister."
Earlier on Wednesday, Johnson apologised over the footage and ordered an investigation, saying he was “furious” about the leaked video.
His decision to launch an investigation followed a week of official denials that the party took place on December 18th, 2020, when London was under lockdown restrictions – despite reports staff drank alcohol and exchanged Secret Santa gifts.
Downing Street’s official line has now shifted with the announcement of the inquiry, with the prime minister’s press secretary declining to repeat the statement that “there was no party”.
She said “it wouldn’t be right to comment further” while there was an investigation.
Number 10 would not give a timetable for the investigation to conclude, but the prime minister’s official spokesman said “we want it to be as soon as possible”.
UK Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said the prime minister’s apology “raises more questions than answers” as he had been “caught red-handed”.