It’s understood campaigner Nimco Ali spent Christmas with the Johnsons – but Downing Street insist it was not a breach of the rules. So what exactly is going on, and how are support bubbles and childcare bubbles involved?
Image: Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing Street)
Downing Street faces questions over whether Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie broke Covid rules by spending Christmas with a friend in Downing Street.
It’s understood political campaigner Nimco Ali joined them for the 2020 festive period.
This was despite a near-lockdown in London and beyond, with millions of Brits banned last-minute from spending the festive period with friends and family.
The couple were also said to have been in a bubble at the same time with Carrie’s mother, Josephine McAfee.
Yet No10 have confidently insisted the Prime Minister and his then-fiancee did NOT break the Covid rules.
A spokesman indicated Ms Ali was in the Johnsons’ “childcare bubble” – which would have been technically allowed at the same time as a “support bubble” with Carrie’s mother.
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Daily Mirror/Andy Stenning)
So what exactly might have happened, and what loophole are the couple using to claim they followed the rules?
Here’s everything we know.
What were the Covid rules at the time?
London and many other parts of England were plunged into ‘Tier 4’ Covid rules on December 19.
That meant previous plans for ‘Christmas bubbles’ was axed in these areas, and people were banned from meeting other households indoors.
The only indoor mixing allowed was between people who were in the same household or “bubble”.
Apart from this and other limited exemptions, the government guidance said: “You must not stay overnight away from home”.
TIM STEWART NEWS LIMITED)
What bubbles were available?
There were two types of bubble available at the time in England.
Firstly, people from two households could form a ‘support bubble’ under certain conditions and behave as though they all lived together.
Most people were only allowed to form a support bubble if one of the two households was a ‘single-adult’ home.
However, the Johnsons were allowed to form a support bubble with a household of any size, because they had a baby under the age of one at the time.
Secondly, people with kids under 14 were allowed to form a ‘childcare bubble’.
Crucially, this childcare bubble could be formed with a different person to whoever was in your support bubble.
However, unlike support bubbles, households were told they could only mix in childcare bubbles for childcare reasons – not for a cuppa or Christmas dinner.
The government guidance added: “You must avoid seeing members of your childcare and support bubbles at the same time.”
Simon Dawson / No10 Downing Street)
What happened with Nimco Ali?
It’s understood Ms Ali spent at least some of the Christmas period with the Johnsons in Downing Street.
The initial allegations first appeared in the US in Harper’s Magazine which claimed that Ms Ali, who is godmother to the Johnsons’ 17-month-old son Wilfred, “spent Christmas with the couple at No10 despite pandemic restrictions on holiday gatherings”.
The article was written by Lara Prendergast, executive editor of The Spectator magazine, which Mr Johnson edited before entering politics.
The Mirror understands Ms Ali did indeed stay with the couple in Downing Street over Christmas – and they justified it privately by saying she was part of their childcare bubble.
The PM’s spokesman hinted at this, saying: “The rules are very clear you could continue to use a childcare bubble on Christmas itself, including in a Tier 4 area.” He refused to deny Ms Ali stayed.
Ms Ali said the allegations had led to a torrent of racist abuse on social media, adding: “I did not break any rules but you all knew that.”
TIM STEWART NEWS LIMITED)
What happened with Carrie Johnson’s mother?
Claims emerged in January that Mrs Johnson’s mother, Josephine McAfee, had formed a household bubble with the Johnsons.
As long as she was in a “support bubble”, this would have been allowed at the same time as Ms Ali was in a childcare bubble.
One source told the Mirror Ms McAfee also spent Christmas Day with the couple in Downing Street.
This would have been a breach of the rules. Rules said members of childcare and support bubbles must not be socialising with their bubble household at the same time.
However, Boris Johnson ’s spokesman explicitly denied Carrie Johnson’s mother stayed for Christmas.
He said: “For the avoidance of doubt, I’m happy to confirm that the Prime Minister’s or Mrs Johnson’s mother were not there over the Christmas period.”
So, did they break the rules or not?
The PM’s spokesman insisted “they didn’t break the rules”, adding: “It is entirely accurate to say they followed coronavirus rules at all times.”
On the available evidence it appears the couple may have followed the rules but trod a thin line. That could leave a sour taste for the millions of Brits who cancelled their Christmas plans in a faint hope of keeping the virus under control.
If indeed Ms Ali was in a childcare bubble and Ms McAfee was in a support bubble, whether the couple followed the rules depends on a few crucial things.
Firstly, Ms Ali must only have been staying for Christmas in order to provide “informal childcare” – not for socialising.
The rules at the time were very clear: “You can only use a childcare bubble for childcare. You cannot use a childcare bubble to mix with another household for other reasons.”
Baby Wilfred was born in April 2020 and Carrie Johnson returned to work in January this year.
Secondly, Ms Ali and Ms McAfee must not have been staying at Downing Street at the same time, because this was not allowed.
“You must avoid seeing members of your childcare and support bubbles at the same time, unless otherwise permitted by gatherings limits in your tier.” the guidance said.
No10 have denied the two women both stayed for Christmas, though a spokesman refused to get into details of Ms Ali’s stay.