No Limit on Size of Christmas Parties: UK Spokesman

By Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
December 2, 2021 Updated: December 2, 2021

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office has rejected a minister’s suggestion that Christmas parties should be cancelled or scaled back to prevent the spread of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant.

Downing Street said on Thursday that rules dictating Christmas party sizes are not in the current set of COVID-19 regulations.

In media interviews earlier in the day, business minister George Freeman said the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will not have a “big” Christmas party, and that his pre-Christmas drinks with staff in his MP office had been switched to Zoom.

Talking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he suggested that larger companies might consider cancelling their staff Christmas parties. “Some companies might normally bring hundreds of people in from around the world to a big party, and they may decide, this year, is that sensible given the pandemic and given where we are?”

Freeman’s suggestion was soon slapped down by the prime minister’s official spokesman, who said “government advice does not set any limits on numbers.”

“There is nothing in the rules to prevent anyone from having Christmas parties or gathering in that way,” he said.

The No. 10 spokesman said the government has set out “a limited number of restrictions” on a “precautionary basis” as investigations continue on the Omicron variant, but the official position “has not changed” beyond that.

Asked why government departments were cancelling festive celebrations despite Boris Johnson urging people not to, the spokesman said: “The prime minister has been very clear on this. On Christmas parties, we don’t want people to cancel such events. There is no government guidance to that end.”

The spokesman repeated the same statement when asked whether Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey had been right to advise people to avoid “snogging under the mistletoe” this Christmas.

Downing Street denied there was any confusion caused by the ministers’ contradictory pronouncements on Christmas parties, but hospitality firms have accused the government of being inconsistent.

In a joint statement, UKHospitality, the British Institute of Innkeeping, and the British Beer & Pub Association urged people not to cancel their Christmas bookings.

“The WHO announcement that Omicron infections are generally mild, plus government promptings for festive gatherings to go ahead as planned, offer a crumb of comfort, and could at least slow the slew of cancellations the sector has experienced in the week since Omicron was discovered,” said the statement.

The industry leaders urged people to “carry on and enjoy their festive season parties, safe in the knowledge that hospitality venues are doing everything they can to ensure people have a safe and fun Christmas and New Year.”

PA contributed to this report.