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Covid Inquiry: Who is ‘Party Marty’ Martin Reynolds and what did he do?

The prime minister’s principal private secretary emailed colleagues inviting them to a socially-distanced drinks event ‘to make the most of the lovely weather’

David Hughes,Joe Sommerlad
Monday 30 October 2023 09:07 GMT
Sue Gray hands Boris Johnson a version of her partygate inquiry

Martin Reynolds made headlines last January when a leaked email showed he had invited more than 100 Downing Street staff to a “bring your own booze” party while Britain was in lockdown.

And, hours before he is hauled before the official Covid Inquiry to answer questions on decision-making in Downing Street during the pandemic, the ex-principal private secretary to Boris Johnson looks set to make headilnes once again.

Dubbed “Party Marty” after details of the invite were leaked to ITV News, Mr Reynolds served as Mr Johnson’s PPS from October 2019 to March 2022.

He will face inquiry chair Baroness Heather Hallett at 10.30am on Monday, with his evidence expected to include bombshell revelations from the heart of Downing Street’s pandemic response.

Mr Reynolds had largely avoided the limelight before the emergence of his email, inviting colleagues to “socially-distanced drinks” during England’s first coronavirus lockdown, despite being one of the most senior civil servants in Britain.

The former prime minister’s top aides including controversial former chief of staff Dominic Cummings will also be grilled over decision-making in Downing Street during the pandemic.

Also appearing before the inquiry is former head of communications Lee Cain, who suggested “the real person in charge” as Covid raged was Mr Johnson’s wife, Carrie.

As Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary (PPS), he played a key role advising the prime minister on a wide range of issues.

He served as the UK’s ambassador to Libya before being appointed to the role at the heart of No 10 in October 2019.

The Cambridge graduate had previously served in a range of Foreign Office roles in Whitehall, South Africa and Brussels.

Before joining the Foreign Office, he was a City lawyer.

Mr Johnson’s former adviser Mr Cummings, who will appear at the inquiry on Tuesday, said the influence wielded by the principal private secretary within Downing Street was not widely appreciated.

“The PPS exercises far more influence and actual power over many issues than Cabinet ministers,” Mr Cummings said.

“He can nudge policy, he can nudge vital appointments (real power). He can and does walk into the PM’s office and exclude all political people ‘on security grounds’.”

A leaked photograph of the prime minister and officials drinking in the No 10 garden on 15 May 2020 - five days before the “bring your own booze” event that Mr Reynolds invited colleagues to - showed the PPS sat at the same table as Mr Johnson.

Mr Cummings used a blog to defend the 15 May gathering, at which he was pictured at the same table as Mr Reynolds, the ex prime minister and his wife Carrie Johnson.

However, he said a “senior No10 official” invited people to “socially-distanced drinks” in the garden on 20 May – an apparent reference to the email sent by Mr Reynolds.

Martin Reynolds (back left), the prime minister’s principal private secretary, attends a Cabinet meeting (Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard/PA)

Mr Cummings said that he and “at least one other” special adviser warned “this seemed to be against the rules and should not happen”.

“In my opinion the official who organised this should anyway have been removed that summer because of his failures over Covid,” Mr Cummings added.

“I said this repeatedly to the PM. The PM rejected my argument.”

Mr Johnson attended the 20 May event, apologising before the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions and explaining, somewhat improbably, that he believed it had been a “work event” and not a party.

He was ridiculed for his trouble by opposition Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and the Partygate saga contributed to his eventual resignation.

In a scathing comment on the culture at No 10 under Mr Johnson’s leadership, Partygate investigator and former senior civil servant Sue Gray said: “Some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time.”

Her report also revealed that the PM’s birthday celebration is among a dozen gatherings being investigated by Scotland Yard, as is an alleged party in the prime minister’s private flat.

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