Downing Street party: Who is 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
Saturday 22 January 2022 09:59
Martin Reynolds (left) and Boris Johnson walking back to Downing Street after a cabinet meeting
Martin Reynolds (left) and Boris Johnson walking back to Downing Street after a cabinet meeting

Martin Reynolds is one of the most senior officials in No 10 but had largely avoided the limelight until the emergence of his email inviting colleagues to “socially-distanced drinks” during England’s first coronavirus lockdown.

As Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary (PPS), he plays 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 Dominic Cummings 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 last week to defend the 15 May gathering, at which he was pictured at the same table as Mr Reynolds, the prime minister and 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

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 has since admitted he 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 has faced repeated calls to resign.

The row was reignited on Thursday evening when The Daily Telegraph carried news of two further parties alleged to have taken place at Downing Street on 16 April 2021, the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral and a moment when the nation was again under strict restrictions because of the pandemic.

Both events are said to have been leaving parties for staff working in the prime minister’s inner team. One was reportedly held for James Slack, Mr Johnson’s then-director of communications, and the other for his personal photographer.

Witnesses said that “excessive alcohol” was drunk, attendees danced to music DJ’d by a special adviser beyond midnight and, at one point, a staffer was sent out to the local branch of Co-op to fill a suitcase with bottles of wine.

Further reports have since alleged that Ms Johnson attended a friend’s rule-breaking engagement celebration in September 2020, prompting her to apologise for a “lapse in judgement”, and that the prime minister gave an address at another leaving do in December 2020, this time for defence adviser Captain Steve Higham.

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