Boris, Carrie and the godmother at Christmas: did No. 10 break lockdown rules?

Claims by ‘confidante’ have raised questions about Johnsons’ childcare bubbles

Boris and Carrie Johnson
(Image credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

A war of words has erupted at Downing Street after Boris Johnson was accused of breaking his own lockdown rules by having his son’s godmother to stay last Christmas.

According to an article in US publication Harper’s Magazine, a “confidante” has claimed that Home Office advisor Nimco Ali, a close friend of Carrie Johnson, was with the couple and their son Wilfred “at No. 10 despite pandemic restrictions on holiday gatherings”.

At the time, London was under tier four restrictions, which included a ban on residents seeing anyone indoors who was not from their household or support bubble. The Johnsons were reportedly part of such a bubble with Carrie’s mother, Josephine McAffee, an arrangement allowed “if one member lived alone or if a household had a child aged under one, which Wilfred was last Christmas”, said The Guardian.

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A Downing Street spokesperson said yesterday that neither McAffee nor the PM’s mother Charlotte Johnson Wahl – who died last month – spent the festive season at No. 10. The spokeperson declined to comment on whether Ali was there, saying: “I’m not going to get into speaking about individuals that the prime minister has seen over Christmas.”

Households had been allowed to “continue to use a childcare bubble”, the official added, and “the PM and Mrs Johnson adhered to that at all times”.

During the lockdown, “it was possible for households to have both a support bubble and childcare bubble”, said The Guardian. But the latter was specifically for the provision of what the government described as “informal childcare”, rather than socialising, the paper pointed out.

Official guidelines said that a childcare bubble could be used in a tier four area on 25 December “only if reasonably necessary for the purposes of childcare and where there are no reasonable alternatives”. And a gap of at least ten days was required before swapping to a different bubble.

Johnson’s spokesperson declined to comment further on what the PM’s childcare needs and arrangements had been.

The claim that sparked the row was published in an article called “Keeping Up with the Johnsons” by Lara Prendergast, an executive editor at The Spectator - the news mag formerly helmed by the PM. Prendergast also wrote about how the Tory leader and his wife have put their own stamp on Downing Street with a refurb that includes gold wallpaper and a sofa “upholstered with ruby and emerald fabric”.

A No. 10 spokesperson told Prendergast that the couple “follow coronavirus rules at all times”, but did not deny the claim about Ali. Prendergast reported that Ali, in turn, had not responded to “repeated requests for comment”.

But Ali, a leading campaigner against female genital mutilation, broke her silence yesterday, tweeting that she had experienced “two days of racist and disgusting tweets” as a result of “a untrue story”.

“No I did not break any rules but you all knew that and just wanted a reason to tweet hate,” she added.

Another Twitter user weighted in, writing: “Hypocrite Matt Hancock broke his own rules and had to resign because of it. Boris Johnson looks like he has broken the lockdown rules he imposed on the country. He should resign too.”

Cabinet minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said this morning that she had “absolute confidence” that the Johnsons did not break the rules. The secretary of state for international trade told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme that “it’s hard enough for the rest of us but when you’re having to run the country as well… having a supportive friend to be there is absolutely the right thing to do”.

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