Leaked photo of Boris Johnson at Christmas quiz adds fuel to ethics controversy

Britain's top civil servant is investigating three alleged rule-breaking government gatherings last winter

An anti-government protester with an image of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson including the words 'Now Partygate'. AP

A photo of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson apparently attending a virtual Christmas party and joking with staff has added to controversy over government standards.

Mr Johnson has been accused of presiding over a “culture of disregard for the rules”, after a picture emerged of him taking part in an online quiz in his Downing Street office and residence flanked by colleagues.

The photo does not necessarily show the prime minister breaking lockdown rules but it can be seen as another example of being cavalier on government ethics and standards.

Last month, Mr Johnson supported rewriting ethics rules so that one of his MPs could evade censure.

Last week one of his aides has resigned after being caught making jokes about another possible party in Downing Street last Christmas.

There have also been questions over high-paying second jobs for MPs.

The newly leaked image shows a computer screen with Mr Johnson sitting in the No10 library with two colleagues – including one draped in tinsel – sitting next to him. Downing Street said the Conservative Party leader had “briefly” taken part “virtually” in the quiz.

It was reportedly taken on December 15, 2020, when London was under restrictions that banned indoor household mixing other than for support bubbles.

Other staff playing the Christmas quiz reportedly broke rules on gatherings, but so far no other images have been leaked.

The festive event is said to have taken place three days before another alleged rule-breaking Christmas party in No 10 which is one of three alleged incidents being investigated by Britain's top civil servant.

“While the rules said that people shouldn't have Christmas parties at work and Britons across the country were doing the right thing, Boris Johnson was instead happy to preside over a culture of disregard for the rules at the heart of government,” said Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the opposition Labour party.

“Despite repeated denials of parties in Number 10, it now transpires that there were numerous parties, gatherings and the prime minister even took part in a festive quiz.

“Boris Johnson really believes it's one rule for him, another for everyone else. He is a man unfit to lead this country.”

The government guidance at the time of the parties read: “Although there are exemptions for work purposes, 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.”

A spokeswoman for the prime minister 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.”

Staff reportedly held a Christmas party in No 10 on December 18, with a leaked video – filmed four days after the alleged gathering – showing senior Downing Street aides joking about a “fictional” party.

A second reported Downing Street event – an aide's leaving party which is said to have taken place on November 27 – was allegedly attended by the prime minister.

There was also festive celebration arranged at the Department for Education, over which officials have expressed regret.

Updated: December 12th 2021, 12:04 PM