Gordon Robinson | There is nothing empty in this symbolism | Remark
For those who are still unable to see how obsequiously flattering we are of Westminster and how much it harms the psyche, morale and political maturity, this one’s for you.
On December 8, the BBC reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had apologized for a video showing senior No 10 executives joking about having a Christmas party a year ago. BoJo was quoted: “I have been assured on several occasions that the rules were not broken.” What did he do? He ordered a “investigation” exactly what happened. Sigh.
So what is tea?
A report in the DailyMirror that a party was held in Downing Street last December was met with a categorical denial. Downing Street insisted that “COVID rules were followed at all times.” A number of ministers appeared in the media to repeat the denials. But a BBC source confirmed there was a party on December 18, 2020, with “several dozen” people in attendance.
Here is the good part.
The video BoJo apologized for is from a Dec. 22 rehearsal for Downing Street’s proposed press briefings. In it (take this), the Prime Minister’s press secretary, Allegra Stratton, is questioned by colleagues about party reports. She jokes: “This fictional party was a non-socially distanced business meeting.”
Shades of ‘No Movement Day’?
Ms. Stratton tendered her resignation. She said she would “regret the remarks for the rest of my life”. Sound familiar?
Now PM asks “investigation” while Downing Street declined to say whether he attended. He does not know ?
Fact: Any party in Downing Street would have breached the Government’s COVID guidelines, which at the time specifically provided: “Although there are exemptions for work purposes, you must not organize a Christmas lunch or party at work where it is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules of your level.”
London was in Tier 3 (it moved to Tier 4 on December 21). The law prohibits gatherings of more than two unless “reasonably necessary” for work. Additionally, there was a specific ban on holding an indoor gathering of more than 30 people.
An expert COVID regulatory lawyer from Doughty Street Chambers opined there could be a theoretical legal loophole for government buildings due to the 1984 legislation used to prescribe the tier system. Another lawyer tweeted that an agreement with Westminster City Council was needed for the regulations to apply to Downing Street. Silent advice so far.
So maybe they are “exempt”?
STILL VERY BRITISH
But this “party/business meeting” was not alone. The BBC received several reports from another party on November 27 as a farewell to Cleo Watson, a former aide to Dominic Cummings. BoJo reportedly gave a speech at the event and even mentioned how crowded it was. National lockdown was still in effect. No indoor gatherings allowed.
Other staff parties/gatherings were held around this time. The BBC quotes Downing Street: “We accept that it would have been better not to congregate in this manner at this particular time.”
The “other half” was not so lucky.
UK police statistics reveal that in England, between March 2020 and January 2021:
• 2,982 fines were issued for gathering inside a home or any indoor space in a Tier 3 area.
• 250 fines were imposed for having organized a gathering of more than 30 people.
At the time, the police could shut down large parties. Fines of up to £10,000 have been prescribed.
• An organizer of a party in Hugh Wycombe with around 200 attendees was fined last December.
• In December, over 100 people attended a party in Northampton. The organizer was fined £10,000.
• In February, a woman was fined £10,000 for hosting a birthday party in Ormskirk with more than 30 attendees.
Obviously, we do NOT subscribe to empty symbolism. We are still very British. This year, people have been arrested for insulting the Prime Minister on video or charged and massively fined for not wearing a mask. Yet there has been silence on the legal fate of participants in an infamous “No Movement Day” extravaganza at an uptown hotel.
Guess we’ll still hang on to Queenie!
Peace and love!
Gordon Robinson is a lawyer. Email your comments to [email protected]