Boris Johnson was respecting COVID lockdown rules at a Downing Street Christmas quiz last year, a Cabinet minister has said.
An image obtained by the Sunday Mirror shows the prime minister on a screen in his office flanked by two colleagues and reading out quiz questions for Number 10 staff.
Coming amid a series of alleged rule-breaking parties in Downing Street and Whitehall, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the government of “treating the public as fools” and argued Mr Johnson was the “worst possible leader at the worst possible time”, as the UK faces the highly contagious COVID-19 Omicron variant.
However, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi defended the prime minister.
“What do we see in that picture? We see a prime minister on a virtual quiz night for 10 to 15 minutes to thank his staff, who by the way, had no choice but to come in every single day,” he told Trevor Phillips On Sunday.
“Sitting in his office are the two people who are closest working with him, no alcohol on the table, not drinking, on a Zoom call or a Teams call, a virtual call respecting the lockdown rules.
“Many people would have had similar Zoom quiz nights around the country.”
The image was reportedly taken on 15 December last year when London was under Tier 2 restrictions, banning indoor household mixing, apart from support bubbles.
Official guidance at the time also stated: “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.”
Workers who took part in the Christmas quiz reportedly huddled around computers, with groups said to have broken rules on gatherings, and drinking alcohol bought from a nearby supermarket.
A source told the newspaper that in one instance 24 people gathered in an office – in four teams of six people.
Teams from the PM’s private office, the policy unit and press office were among those taking part, according to the Sunday Mirror.
A Number 10 spokesperson confirmed the quiz took place but said the PM was involved “briefly”.
A statement 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.”
Responding to the image, Sir Keir pointed out it was reportedly taken three days before an alleged rule-breaking Christmas party at Downing Street on the 18 December, with a leaked video later showing senior Downing Street aides joking about it.
He said: “We have to remember at this time, the vast majority of the public were not seeing loved one’s because they were following the rules.
“Some of them didn’t see them over Christmas and some of them didn’t see their loved one’s ever again.
“To see Downing Street making the rules, then breaking rules, then treating the public as fools and laughing at them, I think runs very, very deep with the British public.”
The Labour leader added: “The prime minister’s lost the authority to lead. He’s so weak, his party’s so divided, he can’t provide the leadership we need at this crucial time.
“He’s the worst possible leader at the worst possible time.”
Earlier senior Tory MP Steve Baker told Sky News: “Any member of the public is going to rightly demand that politicians not only comply with the rules that they impose on other people, but that they are seen to comply with their spirit and it is pretty obvious now that that hasn’t happened and that is a very bad position to be in.”
He added: “I want to see Boris turn this situation around, I want to see him rescue his position, I want to see him go on to be a great success, but he is not going to do it by paying lip service to rules and being incautious about how his staff behave and comply with them.”