According to a report published by The Big Issue, Home Office staff ‘celebrated’ the launch of a new UK immigration policy with ‘prosecco and crisps’ during lockdown. The revelations come amid the fallout from Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s, admission that he was present at an ‘event’ at Downing Street during lockdown when COVID restrictions were at their peak.
It’s understood that a dozen Home Office officials ‘mingled’ following Home Secretary, Priti Patel’s, overhaul of UK asylum seeker rules which was the main story on the six o’clock news. The gathering was held on 24 March, 2021 and took place in an office a few floors below Patel’s office.
Months earlier, Patel had said that she would call the police if she saw people breaking strict coronavirus lockdown rules. At the time of the gathering, the rest of Britain was banned from mixing indoors with different households. Meanwhile, Home Office rules had forced staff to work four desks apart at the time.
Nominally at desks
A source told The Big Issue that there were ‘four bottles of prosecco with crisps and people were nominally at desks’. The source described the setting as ‘watercooler stuff’.
During an interview with Sky News in September 2020, Patel said: “I’m rarely at home but if I saw something that I thought was inappropriate then, quite frankly, I would call the police. It’s not dobbing in neighbours, it’s all about us taking personal responsibility.”
It’s unclear whether Ms Patel attended or was even aware of the gathering. However, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The gathering adhered to the guidance at the time. Some members of staff came into the office to launch a major UK immigration policy.”
“A small number had a drink whilst watching the broadcast coverage of their work on 6pm news bulletins before returning to work or going home,” the spokesperson added.
News of the gathering comes amid speculation that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will ‘throw a bunch of civil service flunkies under the bus’, axing them for the partygate scandal. Meanwhile, according to a report published by The Mirror, Johnson also attended a leaving do for his defence adviser in the run-up to Christmas 2020 and gave a speech.
A source said: “The PM was there for a few minutes to thank the defence adviser for his service, while a small number of staff at No.10 also said goodbye.”
The Mirror report also claimed that Johnson has attended several ‘wine time’ Friday events at Downing Street.
Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray MP told The Big Issue: “Every day that goes by more revelations come out showing the culture of one rule for them, another rule for everybody else, at the heart of government. The Prime Minister and his government have lost all moral authority to lead, and he should resign.”
The Home Office drinks are the latest report of lockdown breaches across government departments, including a party held at number 10 the day before Prince Philip’s funeral.
A spokesperson for Boris Johnson said: “It was deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning.”
The Prime Minister has maintained that he thought he was ‘attending a work event’, when gathering with colleagues in the garden at Downing Street.
New Plan for UK Immigration
The New Plan for UK Immigration reforms being ‘celebrated’ by Home Office staff include a measure to make asylum seekers who arrive in Britain via illegal routes easier to remove, even if they are granted asylum.
The reforms have been blasted by Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer, who said the policy ‘lacks compassion and competence’.
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