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Boris Johnson pictured hosting Downing Street virtual Christmas quiz last year

<i>Adrian Dennis/WPA/Pool/Getty Images</i><br/>Boris Johnson
Getty Images
Adrian Dennis/WPA/Pool/Getty Images
Boris Johnson

By Laura Smith-Spark, Sugam Pokharel and George Engels, CNN

A photo of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hosting a Christmas quiz party at 10 Downing Street last year that allegedly broke Covid-19 restrictions at the time has been published by British newspaper The Mirror.

In the photo, Johnson is pictured on a screen, where he is seen in his office sitting close to two other people, reading out questions, according to The Mirror.

CNN hasn’t independently verified the details about the quiz party, which the Mirror says took place on December 15. A Downing Street spokesperson said it was a “virtual quiz” and that Johnson “briefly took part virtually” to thank staff.

While the photo shows Johnson with only two others, a source told the Mirror that “many staff huddled by computers, conferring on questions and knocking back fizz, wine and beer,” a claim CNN hasn’t independently verified.

According to official guidance at the time, “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.”

London was under Tier 2 restrictions at the time of the quiz, which said there should be no mixing of households indoors, apart from so-called support bubbles, and a maximum of six people outside.

An internal investigation led by Johnson’s Cabinet Secretary, the UK’s most senior civil servant, is already underway into three events from last year: an alleged party in Downing Street on November 27; a gathering at the Department for Education on December 10; and an alleged party in No. 10 on December 18.

After speaking to multiple officials, CNN has established that social gatherings were indeed held on two days — November 27 and December 18 — and confirmed a Daily Mirror report that Johnson himself gave an impromptu speech at the first one. Sources also confirmed reports that secret Santa gifts were exchanged on December 18.

Johnson and other top Conservatives have denied any rules were broken.

Responding to the Mirror’s reporting on the alleged quiz party on December 15, published late Saturday, a Downing Street spokesperson told CNN in a statement: “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,” the spokesperson added.

Asked about the Mirror’s story on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi suggested people could judge for themselves whether the rules were broken, adding that many Downing Street staff were unable to work from home as they responded to a national emergency.

“These are people who work together… There is no drink here. I don’t think there’s a rule against recognizing Christmas with tinsel or a hat,” he said.

“Ten to 15 minutes to thank his team who were working all hours, on a virtual screen in a pub quiz — I think people can make their own mind up on that.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer told the same BBC show that the allegations concerning the quiz needed to be looked into, but “it’s very hard to see how that’s compliant with the rules.”

Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, tweeted that Johnson had “presided over a culture of disregarding the rules at the heart of government.”

She added: “Despite repeated denials, it now transpires that there were numerous parties, gatherings and the Prime Minister even took part in a festive quiz.”

The Labour Party press office tweeted that on December 15 last year, Starmer had written to Johnson “calling on him to urgently convene COBRA to discuss the worsening Covid situation.” The UK government’s Cobra committee is a cross-departmental group that can be convened in situations of national emergency.

“Now we know that instead, the PM hosted a Covid rule-breaching Christmas quiz that evening,” the Labour Party tweet continued.

Johnson faced fierce criticism Wednesday after a leaked video recording obtained by CNN affiliate ITV News showed senior Downing Street staff joking about an alleged Christmas party on December 18 last year.

On December 17, the government had sent a tweet warning “you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity.”

Johnson responded to the allegations, telling the House of Commons on Wednesday “I was furious to see that clip”, adding, “I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken.”

Fresh claims emerged Thursday and Friday. Jack Doyle, then deputy head of communications and now Johnson’s most important press chief, addressed a gathering of “up to 50 people” at the December 18 party and gave out jokey award certificates to members of staff, CNN’s affiliate ITV News reported on Thursday.

Downing Street and Doyle both declined to comment to CNN while “there is an ongoing review.”

™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London, while Sugan Pokharel reported from Atlanta and George Engels from Uraguay. CNN’s Luke McGee and Sarah Dean contributed to this report.

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