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A photograph showing UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has led to fresh claims that the British leader and his team have regularly flouted lockdown rules.
The UK Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab on Monday defended his boss, saying a picture of a garden gathering that included Boris Johnson was "not a party."
The photograph — from May 2020 — was taken at a time when the British public was told not to meet more than one member of another household while outdoors.
Claims that Johnson and his staff broke social-distancing rules in place last November and December, holding parties at Downing Street and other government departments, had already generated negative headlines for Johnson.
The leaked picture, splashed on the front page of The Guardian newspaper, shows Johnson and more than a dozen other people at his Downing Street residence during lockdown.
The prime minister and his wife, Carrie, who appears to be holding their newborn son, can be seen with two other people, with cheese and wine on the table.
Another table with four people at it is pictured nearby, while a larger group can be seen in the background on the lawn drinking wine.
The newspaper reported that 19 people were present and there were "spirits and pizza inside and outside the building."
When asked just two days before the gathering about how people should behave in outdoor spaces such as parks, Johnson said they should only meet one other person at a maximum if not from the same household.
"If you want to meet someone from outside your household, it's got to be you and that other person just as a pair and you should observe social distancing while you're there," he said.
"And so it should basically be a one on one thing, but with social distancing keeping 2 meters apart with social distancing rules."
Downing Street denied that there had been a party and said the picture showed a "staff meeting following a Number 10 press conference."
"Downing Street use that garden as a place of work," Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told Times Radio. "That's not against the regulations."
"It is palpably not a social gathering, because you had people in work suits, following meetings that they were having at work," Raab said.
The opposition Labour Party said the photograph was evidence that Johnson and his staff had not taken the restrictions seriously.
"Ask yourself, is that a work meeting going on? Or is that a social event? And I think the answer is pretty obvious," Labour leader Keir Starmer said.
Johnson has also faced rebellion with his Conservative Party, with his own lawmakers voting last week against tougher measures to stop the spread of omicron.
David Frost, the UK's top Brexit negotiator, on Sunday resigned because of disillusionment with new pandemic restrictions.
In a surprise by-election defeat on Friday, the Conservatives lost a parliamentary seat that had been safe for decades.
UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid last week told lawmakers that the omicron variant was spreading so quickly it had the potential to overwhelm the country's hospitals.
Javid said it highlighted the need to strengthen coronavirus restrictions and speed up the delivery of booster vaccine shots.
rc/aw (Reuters, dpa)