Raab says ‘formal party’ in No 10 last Christmas would have broken rules

A “formal party” in Downing Street last December would have been contrary to Covid-19 guidance, the justice secretary has admitted, saying it would have been “the wrong thing to do”.

Dominic Raab told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, however, that Boris Johnson had assured him no rules had been broken over the alleged gathering last year, despite reports from various sources in several newspapers.

“Let’s just be clear what we’re talking about here, something that took place a year ago, unsubstantiated anonymous claims being made,” he said. “It’s impossible to answer the charge on that basis, only that we are clear the rules were being followed. If there is a breach of the rules there is a breach of the rules. But I don’t know the full facts because I wasn’t there.”

Asked if, as a lawyer, he agreed it would have been a breach of the rules to have held a gathering, Raab said: “Of course, if there was a formal party held, of course that is something that is clearly contrary to the guidance. If anyone held a party that it is contrary to the rules, of course that is the wrong thing to do.

“If something unsubstantiated from anonymous sources actually materialised then of course it would be wrong.”

Raab earlier told Sky News’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme that the rules for Christmas parties this year were “very clear”.

He said: “People can go in and have Christmas parties. Of course employers will want to think common sense about how they do that. We won’t be having a Ministry of Justice-wide Christmas party this year. We will be having appropriate drinks at a smaller scale.

“The government wants people to be able to enjoy Christmas this year. People should feel free to go and enjoy those celebrations and every employer will think about the right way to do it and I’m the same as everybody else.”

Speaking earlier, Raab also defended the health secretary’s announcement of new travel testing rules. Sajid Javid said that as of 4am on Tuesday all international arrivals to the UK would be required to take a predeparture Covid-19 test to tackle the new Omicron variant.

Travellers will need to submit evidence of a negative lateral flow or PCR test to enter, which must have been taken a maximum of 48 hours before the departure time. People currently only need to self-isolate until they test negative within two days of arrival.

“I know that is a burden for the travel industry but we have made huge, huge strides in this country,” Raab told Sky. “We have got to take the measures targeted forensically to stop the new variant seeding in this country to create a bigger problem. We have taken a balanced approach but we are always alert to extra risk that takes us back not forward.”

Prof Mark Woolhouse, a government scientific adviser, told the BBC it was too late to make a “material difference” to a potential wave of Omicron cases. “I think that may be a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted,” he said.

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