Boris Johnson described a Downing Street leaving do during lockdown as “the most unsocially distanced party in the UK right now”, it has been claimed.
According to a new podcast by ITV, staff were left stunned when Johnson later denied knowledge of any rule-breaking in Number 10.
Johnson is accused of making the comment at a leaving party for his director of communications, Lee Cain.
Pictures later emerged of the then PM raining a glass after delivering a speech at the gathering.
One source told the ‘Partygate - The Inside Story’ podcast: “I was working late - some music came on, the mumbling sort of rose, and there were loads of people stood around, but this time I came out because I heard the prime minister speaking and that’s when I heard the quote: ‘This is the most unsocially distanced party in the UK right now’ and everyone was laughing about it.”
The source added: “The PM making that comment really sticks out in my mind, that was pretty bad, because the picture showed one side of this going on.
“But what it didn’t capture is the 20 odd people sat on top of each other on the opposite side - they’re literally shoulder to shoulder, clamped in like a tube carriage.
“And he was there seeing people sat on other people’s laps (in) close proximity, crowded, scrunched up in front of him. He saw that, he saw people with drinks. You saw the picture. It had booze all over that desk. He’s not blind, he’s not stupid. He saw that and didn’t shut it down.
“That was really bad, but that was a normal sight, a regular occurrence, so it wasn’t unusual to see that sort of thing.”
Johnson later told MPs that no lockdown rules were broken in Number 10 - comments which are now the subject of a Commons inquiry.
Another source said of the PM’s comments: “We all watched it live and we were just gobsmacked. We all looked at each other and thought ‘why the hell is he saying this?’ We all know it had happened, he knew it happened - he was there.
“We were all just shocked that he would even deny it. He was there. We were there. We were all there together. And suddenly he’s denying it.”
The podcast also claimed that staff “shredded” key documents ahead of Sue Gray’s partygate investigation and corroborated their stories before filling out Metropolitan Police questionnaires on the scandal.
Johnson, along with his wife Carrie and Rishi Sunak, was fined for attending a birthday party thrown for him in 10 Downing Street during lockdown - but not over Lee Cain’s leaving party.
A spokesperson for Johnson did not deny he had made the “unsocially distanced party” comment.
They said: “During the pandemic, 10 Downing Street staff worked to coordinate the UK government’s national response.
“The work of Downing Street staff was crucial as they helped marshal the UK’s response to a national emergency.”
Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said: “These shocking revelations confirm Boris Johnson’s total disregard for the rules he asked us all to follow. He laughed and partied while the rest of the country suffered.
“Conservative MPs should be ashamed that they backed Johnson for so long and that some are even considering putting him back in Number 10.”