Wine time Friday, the PM’s cheese and karaoke – the partygate culture

The Gray report gave details of gatherings which took place at a time when millions of people were unable to see friends and family.

Catherine Wylie
Wednesday 25 May 2022 16:45 BST
Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a gathering in 10 Downing Street in November 2020 (Sue Gray Report/Cabinet Office/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a gathering in 10 Downing Street in November 2020 (Sue Gray Report/Cabinet Office/PA) (PA Media)

Booze-fuelled partying into the early hours, wine time Friday, an altercation between staff, and a karaoke machine at the ready.

These were among the shocking details of behaviour outlined in Sue Gray’s much-anticipated report giving an insight into what went on in Number 10 and the Cabinet Office during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The 37-page report delves into 12 events, starting with a gathering in the Number 10 garden on May 15 2020 when Boris Johnson brought wine and cheese from his own flat, and ending with two get-togethers behind the famous black door on April 16 2021, which was the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.

One of the enduring images of Philip’s funeral was the picture of the Queen sitting alone in a pew in St George’s Chapel in Windsor as the royal family adhered to the restrictions in place at the time.

Boris Johnson departs 10 Downing Street to attend Prime Minister’s Questions at the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

The night before the funeral, around 23 miles away in Number 10, staff had carried on drinking into the early hours at two leaving-dos, with the last person not departing until 4.20am.

Meanwhile, back on June 18 2020, former proprietary and ethics chief Helen MacNamara provided a karaoke machine for a Cabinet Office gathering where one individual was sick and there was a “minor altercation” between two others.

The last member of staff, who the report said “stayed to tidy up”, did not leave until 3.13am.

The inquiry was told that members of the Number 10 press office have for some time, including before the pandemic, brought in wine on Fridays to mark the end of the week – an event known as “wine time Friday” or WTF for short.

Bottles of wine would be placed on a table in a small room adjacent to the main press office and people could help themselves.

In an invite for an event on May 20 2020, staff were encouraged to “bring your own booze”.

In her report, former pub landlady Ms Gray refers to “excessive alcohol consumption” at the June 18 2020 event in the Cabinet Office and staff drinking “excessively” in Number 10 on December 18 2020 and April 16 2021.

The report says that a cleaner who attended the morning after the December 18 2020 gathering noted that there had been red wine spilled on one wall and on a number of boxes of photocopier paper.

Ms Gray says the “excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time”, adding steps must be taken to ensure that every Government department has a “clear and robust” policy in place in relation to the consumption of alcohol in the workplace.

Elsewhere in the report, Ms Gray said she was made aware of “multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment” of security and cleaning staff.

She said she found that some staff had witnessed or been subjected to “behaviours at work which they had felt concerned about but at times felt unable to raise properly”.

Ms Gray said she is reassured to see that steps have since been taken to introduce more easily accessible means by which to raise concerns, adding she hopes this will “truly embed a culture that welcomes and creates opportunities for challenge and speaking up at all levels”.

In the final words of the conclusions section of her report, Ms Gray says that many people will be “dismayed that behaviour of this kind took place on this scale at the heart of Government”.

She says the public have a right to expect “the very highest standards of behaviour in such places and clearly what happened fell well short of this”.

However, she says it is her firm belief that these events “did not reflect the prevailing culture in Government and the Civil Service at the time”.

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