Christmas parties: Conservative staff event going ahead, says chairmanon December 3, 2021 at 12:46 pm

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Tory chairman urges people to go ahead with parties – but the government faces calls for clearer guidance.

Boris Johnson

Image source, EPA

The Conservative Party chairman says he has no plans to cancel a staff Christmas party over concerns about the latest Covid variant.

Oliver Dowden said the planned festivities were in line with rules, and he would “urge people to keep calm and carry on with their plans”.

On Thursday, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said their MPs had called off a Christmas gathering.

But she said Labour was not urging the public to cancel their events.

Downing Street has said there will continue to be festive events in the run up to Christmas, but would not specify whether or not that would include a No 10 staff party.

Asked whether one would take place, Boris Johnson’s deputy spokesman said they wouldn’t set out details of private functions in No 10 but there will be festive events in the run up to Christmas.

It follows controversy over No 10 staff breaking Covid rules with a party last December at the height of restrictions.

Some health experts have questioned the safety of large gatherings this year since the emergence of the new Omicron variant of Covid earlier this month.

Despite no new laws or guidance restricting social functions, some big businesses have decided to downgrade Christmas events.

A number are holding smaller parties within departments, rather than larger, company-wide functions.

Downing Street has said it is not urging people to cancel Christmas events.

Business Minister George Freeman has said his government department would not be having a “big” gathering, telling Times Radio: “Nobody would expect us to”.

He added his own parliamentary team were planning to “get together on Zoom” instead of an in-person event.

On Wednesday, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said people should not kiss strangers at Christmas events to reduce Covid spread.

But asked about her comments on Thursday, Health Secretary Sajid said “it’s got nothing to do with the government who you kiss”.

He added that people “can snog who they wish”, but urged people to “just be cautious”.

Christmas party

Image source, Getty Images

Speaking to BBC Breakfast earlier, Mr Dowden said the Conservatives would be holding a “normal Christmas gathering of staff that are in London”.

“That is completely consistent with the rules, and I would urge people to keep calm and carry on with their plans,” he said.

But he added: “Of course, if the situation changes and rules need to be updated, we will comply with the rules as they stand at that time.”

Asked how many staff would be taking part, he replied: “I’m afraid I’ll leave the details of it to others.”

“It’s not a children’s party, so I wouldn’t expect there will be games, etc. It will be a social gathering for the staff that are in our London office.”

On Thursday, Ms Rayner said Labour had been “reviewing our Christmas get-togethers” following the emergence of Omicron.

“The parliamentary Labour party was meant to meet and have a Christmas party – we’ve decided not to do that now,” she said.

However, she added: “We’ve said quite clearly that we don’t think people should cancel their Christmas gatherings.”

“But we do think the government should make clear advice to people what they should be doing.”

On Thursday, Ms Rayner asked Cabinet Secretary Simon Case whether he will investigate the use of government property for a Downing Street staff party on 18 December last year.

Boris Johnson – who was not at the party – said no Covid rules were broken, but No 10 has refused to explain how party-goers complied.

On Friday, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said her force is not investigating the event.

“As far as I’m aware, we have had no complaint, and therefore I really can’t comment on what did or didn’t happen there,” she told LBC.

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