12 times Boris Johnson’s Tories are accused of partying during lockdown

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A string of alleged Downing Street parties during lockdown have left Boris Johnson with more than one kind of headache.

The British prime minister is under intense pressure amid claims multiple illicit gatherings took place on government property, while restrictions prohibited members of the public from meeting up with more than one other person outdoors.

Johnson himself is accused of attending some of the gatherings, including a pre-planned “bring your own booze” party in the Downing Street garden on May 20, 2020 while Britain was in lockdown. The prime minister has previously said he “certainly broke no rules.”

The judge of that claim will be senior civil servant Sue Gray, who is leading the government’s internal investigation into the parties alleged to have taken place after POLITICO reported the previous head of the investigation, top civil servant Simon Case, himself attended an alleged informal gathering.

If Gray rules that the prime minister broke COVID rules by attending an illegal party, Johnson’s premiership will face its most perilous moment in his two and a half years in the role — though it is notoriously difficult to unseat a prime minister under the British political system. His fate will likely rest on whether he can hold onto the support of his party given Tory MPs can kick out their leader, but they may wait until after May’s local elections where punishment at the polls could hasten his demise.

Here are the parties, gatherings and “socially distanced” drinks the government is accused of, all of which are reported to have taken place during 2020.

May 15 — Garden meeting with wine and cheese

Johnson was pictured enjoying wine and cheese alongside his wife and at least 16 others in the Downing Street garden during the first lockdown on May 15, 2020, following earlier reports a social event had taken place on that day.

The Guardian newspaper released the photograph after a No. 10 spokesperson insisted Johnson and staff members had been using the garden for work meetings only. Rules at the time limited people to mixing outdoors with just one other person.

Asked about the photo, the prime minister said it showed “people at work, talking about work.” Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab insisted the gathering broke no rules because staff were “in suits.”

Sitting opposite Johnson in the picture was his then-chief aide Dominic Cummings, who claimed on his Substack blog the photo did not show a party.

However, Cummings pointed toward another social event he said occurred just five days later.

May 20 — ‘Bring your own booze’ garden drinks

More than 100 Downing Street staff were allegedly invited to a garden drinks party by a senior government civil servant during the first spring lockdown, in the most recent and potentially most damaging revelation to hit Johnson and his government so far.

Martin Reynolds, Johnson’s principal private secretary who runs the prime minister’s office, is accused of sending an email inviting staff to “make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No. 10 garden.”

The email, obtained by ITV News, went on to say: “Please join us from 6 p.m. and bring your own booze!”

Some media reports have said Johnson and his wife Carrie were among roughly 40 people who attended the gathering. The prime minister is yet to comment publicly, while his spokesman said Tuesday he could not comment further while the investigation was ongoing.

November 13 — Dom gone ding-dong

The prime minister’s former chief aide Dominic Cummings alleged a party took place in Johnson’s flat on November 13 — the same evening Cummings was sacked after losing an internal power struggle. At the time England was in the throes of a second national lockdown.

Johnson flatly denied this took place, though caveated by telling the House of Commons: “I’m sure that whatever happened the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.”

He was also accused in some media reports of giving an impromptu speech to mark the simultaneous departure of aide and Cummings ally Lee Cain, while a small number of No. 10 staff gathered for drinks.

November 25 — Treasury party

Around two dozen civil servants were reported by the Times to have held an impromptu drinks party in the Treasury during the November lockdown, after Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered his fall spending review.

Sunak was not at the event and is reported to have been unaware of it at the time. A Treasury spokesperson admitted a small number of staff “had impromptu drinks around their desks” after the spending review.

November 27 — Leaving party

Johnson is accused of giving a speech at a crowded leaving party for his former adviser Cleo Watson in late November 2020, in a story initially broken by the Daily Mirror. England was still under a second national lockdown at the time.

Around 40 or 50 people were said to have been crammed “cheek by jowl” into a medium-sized room in Downing Street. The Guardian reported Johnson himself entered the room and made a speech mentioning how crowded it was inside.

Johnson and his press secretary did not deny the event took place but insisted no COVID rules were broken.

December 10 — Department for education Christmas party

About two dozen people attended a planned gathering with drinks and snacks in the department for education canteen in December 2020, while social mixing between households was banned indoors in England.

Senior DfE civil servant Susan Acland-Hood confirmed in evidence to MPs that the event had taken place and said it was instigated by then-Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, who had wanted to thank his staff for their hard work. Acland-Hood said she had asked Cabinet Secretary Simon Case — at that time running the investigation into Downing Street parties — to investigate the gathering, which she said was work-related.

Mid-December — ‘Waiting room drinks’

POLITICO reported that Simon Case, the U.K.’s top civil servant who was originally tasked with investigating the alleged parties, himself attended an impromptu Christmas gathering in mid-December 2020 in an apparent breach of COVID rules, according to multiple Whitehall officials. A group of 15-20 staff were said to have shared drinks in Case’s office in 70 Whitehall and in the waiting room outside in what one official described as a “piss up.”

Case was described as “in and out” of the gathering, drinking with colleagues, and there were Christmas decorations on the tables, one of those present recalled. 

At the time, London was in Tier 2 restrictions, meaning people were not allowed to socialize indoors and were told to work from home where possible.

Case subsequently stepped down from the investigation and senior civil servant Sue Gray took over.

December 14 — CCHQ bash

Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate for the 2021 London mayoral elections, apologized unreservedly after reports emerged that his campaign staff organized a “raucous” bash at the party’s campaign headquarters in London.

The Sunday Mirror published a photo of Bailey and 24 others inside a small room, alongside a buffet of party food.

December 15 — Christmas quiz

Johnson was accused of breaking COVID laws when the Sunday Mirror obtained a picture of the prime minister hosting an online Christmas quiz, flanked by two members of his team — one wearing a Santa hat and the other draped in tinsel.

Regulations at the time banned indoor mixing between households for social reasons, leading to suggestions Johnson had breached the rules by mixing with his aides for the quiz.

The paper reported that staff “huddled by computers” in their Downing Street offices for the online quiz with wine and beer, answering questions on everything from the history of Downing Street to the lyrics of Christmas songs. Those taking part were advised to “go out the back” when they left Downing Street.

A No. 10 spokesperson said the quiz was “virtual” and that staff who were in the office for work “may have attended virtually from their desk.”

December 16 — Department for transport Christmas party

Staff working for key Johnson ally Transport Secretary Grant Shapps were accused of “boozing and dancing” on the day London effectively entered a new lockdown, in yet another Daily Mirror scoop.

The paper claimed that almost a dozen staff members joined the gathering, which took place after work. The department for transport apologized for holding the “inappropriate” event.

Shapps insisted via a spokesman he had “absolutely no idea” about the gathering and was not invited.

December 17 — Cabinet Office Christmas party

Another Cabinet Office event, which the Times reported took place on December 17, 2020, allegedly saw officials in Case’s office hold their own Christmas quiz.

The event, which was reportedly listed in digital calendar invitations as “Christmas party!,” took place at a time when mixing between households for social reasons was banned in London.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “Staff in the cabinet secretary’s private office took part in a virtual quiz on December 17, 2020. A small number of them, who had been working in the office throughout the pandemic and were on duty that day, took part from their desks, while the rest of the team were virtual. The cabinet secretary played no part in the event, but walked through the team’s office on the way to his own office.”

December 18 — No. 10 Christmas parties

Around 40 members of Johnson’s team of civil service press advisers were reported to have held a Christmas party featuring “secret Santa” gifts prior to Christmas, but after the December 16 date when strict new curbs were introduced in London.

The story was again first broken by the Daily Mirror newspaper, which said: “Officials knocked back glasses of wine during a Christmas quiz and a secret Santa while the rest of the country was forced to stay at home.”

Johnson, who did not attend the gathering, told the House of Commons after the story broke that “all guidance was followed completely.” His spokesperson later denied that a party had taken place.

That particular claim was undermined when one of Johnson’s advisers, Allegra Stratton, was seen joking with another adviser about “a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night.” In the footage which was filmed on December 22, 2020 and obtained by ITV, Stratton made references to the presence of “cheese and wine” and a lack of social distancing.

Stratton resigned days after the footage emerged, but her exit failed to stop the flow of serious questions for Johnson over what he knew and when.

Late Tuesday, the Telegraph reported that a further gathering took place on the same evening of the widely reported Christmas party involving Reynolds and other senior aides.

The paper said Reynolds and other aides had “stayed late” consuming wine in the Downing Street private offices, where Johnson’s close inner circle of civil servants sit.

Source: Politico

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