More than 100 Downing Street staff were invited to a lockdown-breaking party in the No 10 garden and told to “bring your own booze”, a leaked email shows.
The revelation heaps fresh pressure on Boris Johnson, who refused to say whether he had attended, but a source told The Independent he had “hung out” with staff for at least an hour as they knocked back drinks.
The party took place on 20 May 2020, as England was still emerging from the strict first Covid lockdown and meetings with more than one other person outdoors were still banned.
On Monday evening the Metropolitan Police said they were “in contact” with the Cabinet Office relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations in No 10 on 20 May.
It also came five days after another party, where the prime minister and his wife were pictured with officials having wine and cheese in the garden, as reported by The Independent.
Sources told The Independent there had been further No 10 gatherings during lockdown that had yet to come to light. An investigation into the events is being carried out by senior civil servant Sue Gray.
According to ITV News, the leaked email was sent by Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, to over 100 employees in Downing Street.
The email stated: “Hi all. After what has been an incredibly busy period it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden this evening. Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!”
Around 30-40 staff attended, the broadcaster said, including Mr Johnson and his wife, Carrie.
An hour before the gathering, cabinet minister Oliver Dowden had told members of the public at a live news conference: “You can meet one person outside your household in an outdoor, public place, provided that you stay two metres apart.”
On the same day, the Metropolitan Police also reminded members of the public on its social media feed that they were permitted to enjoy the weather, but that they must do so “on your own”, “with people you live with”, or “just you and one other person”.
Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s former chief adviser, had already urged a senior civil servant to investigate the gathering.
Asked about the event – following Mr Cummings’s allegations last week – Mr Johnson refused to say whether he had attended the 20 May party, insisting that Sue Gray, the senior official charged with investigating rule breaking on various occasions, was looking into the matter.
“All that, as you know, is the subject of a proper investigation by Sue Gray,” he said. Pressed on the subject, he repeated: “All that is a subject for investigation by Sue Gray.” No 10 also denied reports that Mr Reynolds would be moved from his current role.
A source also told The Independent there were “more parties” that would come to light if Ms Gray “gets the info she ought to get”. However, they added that it was “deeply wrong” that officials would “get the blame” when their actions were sanctioned by the prime minister.
“He was there for [the parties]. He encouraged people to drink and drank himself. And it was a clear untruth for No 10 to suggest that there was nothing that could be described as [a party],” they said. “It was shocking that they even tried to claim that.”
These events, indoors and outdoors at No 10, were on several occasions “most definitely not work meetings”, they added.
The events – most of which were smaller than the 20 May gathering – often included drinks in the garden, but would shift inside for snacks and pizza as it got cold, sources said.
Writing on his Substack blog last week, Mr Cummings said: “On Wednesday 20 May ... a senior No 10 official invited people to ‘socially distanced drinks’ in the garden.”
Alongside one other No 10 special adviser, the former No 10 adviser claimed he had said that the event “seemed to be against the rules and should not happen”.
He added: “We were ignored. I was ill and went home to bed early that afternoon but am told this event definitely happened. In my opinion the official who organised this should anyway have been removed that summer because of his failures over Covid. I said this repeatedly to the PM.”
Reacting, Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said Mr Johnson had “consistently shown that he has no regard for the rules he puts in place for the rest of us”.
“He is trying to get officials to take the fall for his own mistakes, but he sets the tone for the way Downing Street and the rest of government operates,” she said.
“At the time this party took place, key workers on the front line were working around the clock to keep us all safe, people suffered loneliness and loss in unimaginably tough circumstances, and for the majority of the country our freedom was limited to a daily walk.
“Labour has welcomed Sue Gray’s inquiry, but we need confirmation that this latest revelation, and any other parties not yet revealed by press investigations, will be covered by her probe.”
The Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Ed Davey, said Monday’s leaked email was “yet more evidence that while the vast majority of people were sticking to the rules, those in No 10 were breaking them”, and demanded that Mr Johnson be interviewed by Ms Gray.
“It is a kick in the teeth for everyone who has sacrificed so much during the pandemic, from those who weren’t able to visit loved ones in hospital to nurses left wearing binbags as PPE,” he added.
Downing Street has been contacted for comment.