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2 December 2021updated 03 Dec 2021 9:52am

LISTEN: Minister refuses six times to say if No 10 Downing Street had a Christmas party during December 2020 restrictions

Science minister George Freeman said he couldn’t say what happened in “a room I wasn’t at”.

By The Chatterer

Pity George Freeman. The new science minister as of September was sent over the top to face a brutal media round this morning, amid reports that No 10 had a Christmas party last December while Covid-19 restrictions prohibited people mixing indoors outside of their household or support bubble.

Boris Johnson didn’t deny the reports at PMQs on Wednesday 1 December. Then it was up to the minister of state for sacrificial lambs George Freeman to pick up the baton of non-denial, insisting that he couldn’t known because he wasn’t there.

Here’s how the excruciating interview went on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme with a merciless Justin Webb this morning:

Are we clear now that there was a Christmas party at 10 Downing Street last December?

Well, I’ve only been back in government six weeks, I wasn’t anywhere near No 10 last year.

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I did check before coming on the programme, I’m told by those who were that all the guidance was observed.

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But that wasn’t my question – was there a party?

I have no idea, I wasn’t there! But I’m told by those who were that all the guidance was observed and the truth is…

Hang on, the guidance at the time was that there could not be parties at work or elsewhere, and indeed people were fined for having them – you’re saying all the guidance was observed, so you’re I think saying there was not a party?

I can’t say, I wasn’t there…

Well, it doesn’t matter if you were there or not, I’m asking you was there a party?

Well, it does, you’re asking me was there a party or not, and I’m saying I wasn’t there.

But you would’ve been briefed. Anyone listening knows that you will have been briefed on what the government line is – why not just tell us if people got together and had a drink but didn’t call it a party. Why not just say that happened? Because of course, it does matter, doesn’t it? It matters for people following the rules and also matters for those who at the time were fined.

Yeah, look, I’m not going to get drawn into who was and wasn’t in which room in No 10 last year, that’s not my job, my job is to make sure we’re setting out a really clear framework for the UK…

Hang on, before you get on to the framework…

Justin, I wasn’t there, I wouldn’t be able to tell you who was in which room, I know that’s what you’d rather talk about but…

No, it’s not what I’d rather talk about, it’s just a really clear thing about being straight with people about what happened, and I think the charge that the government faces is that when you say all the rules were followed, that suggests there was no party because there could not have been with the rules being followed. Is that right?

I’m sorry, I’m going to keep giving you the same answer – I wasn’t there, I can’t tell you what happened at an event I wasn’t at or wasn’t party to, but I have checked, and am told by those who were that all the guidance was followed – I’m just going to have to keep saying the same thing because I can’t tell you what happened in a room I wasn’t at.

The Chatterer is unsure whether after this performance Freeman will be getting an invitation to Downing Street parties legal or illegal anytime soon…

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