Partygate: What Downing Street parties were the Met Police investigating?

PM’s birthday party, gathering in Downing Street flat and several Christmas celebrations were all part of Scotland Yard probe into lockdown rule-breaking

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Editor
Wednesday 25 May 2022 10:52
Metropolitan Police conclude Partygate inquiry with 126 people fined

The Metropolitan Police has announced that it has completed its investigation into the Downing Street “Partygate” scandal over rule-breaking during the Covid-19 lockdown, handing out 126 fines in total over eight events held behind closed doors in Westminster.

Boris Johnson, his chancellor Rishi Sunak and his wife Carrie Johnson were among one tranche of government staff members handed fixed penalty notice fines for breaking their own rules to stage parties during the pandemic but received no further fines before the probe concluded.

Both the prime minister and chancellor apologised and paid their fines, with Mr Johnson saying: “In all frankness at that time it did not occur to me that this might have been a breach of the rules. Of course, the police have found otherwise and I fully respect the outcome of their investigation.”

But he repeatedly brushed off widespread calls for his resignation, saying: “I believe it’s my job to get on and deliver for the people of this country. That’s what I’m going to do.”

The scandal has been blown from the headlines by the outbreak of the Ukraine war and the cost of living crisis over the last three months, but it was last at its height when senior civil servant Sue Gray turned her report into the affair over to the PM in late January.

In what proved to be a 12-page “update” on “Partygate” only, Ms Gray blasted “failures of leadership and judgement” in Downing Street and the Cabinet Office, describing the behaviour of some personnel as “difficult to justify”.

In a scathing comment on the culture at No 10 under Mr Johnson’s leadership, the senior civil servant wrote: “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 Mr Johnson’s birthday celebration was among the dozen gatherings being investigated by Scotland Yard, as was an alleged party in the PM’s private flat.

Ms Johnson reportedly helped organise the surprise event for him in Downing Street’s Cabinet Room on 19 June 2020, where attendees presented a cake and sang “Happy Birthday”.

Covid laws at the time meant that large social gatherings were banned, unless they were between linked households.

An alleged party in the PM’s private flat in November 2020 was also confirmed to be part of the probe, alongside several leaving dos and Christmas parties.

Ms Gray wrote: “It is not for me to make a judgment on whether the criminal law has been broken; that is properly a matter for law enforcement.

“In line with my terms of reference I have been in regular contact with the Metropolitan Police as my work has progressed in order for them to take decisions on the gatherings under examination, including whether to launch their own investigation.”

The “update” was published in redacted form because of the ongoing probe, with Ms Gray saying she was not currently able to provide the “extensive factual information” on the events being handled by police.

Scotland Yard was investigating the 20 May 2020 gathering in Downing Street’s garden, where a leaked email showed staff had been invited to “bring your own booze”.

But police were not looking at a gathering that took place five days before, where a photograph showed wine and cheese being consumed by the PM, his wife and other attendees.

Officers did investigate a gathering held in the Cabinet Office on 18 June 2020 to mark the departure of a Downing Street private secretary and Mr Johnson’s birthday celebration the following day.

Two gatherings on 13 November 2020 were also under police investigation – an alleged party in the PM’s flat and a separate Downing Street gathering marking the departure of a special adviser. England was in lockdown at the time.

But Scotland Yard declined to investigate a Downing Street special adviser’s leaving gathering where the PM gave a speech on 27 November 2020 or a Department for Education Christmas gathering on 10 December 2020.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Police Commissioner Cressida Dick during a visit to Metropolitan Police training college in Hendon, north London

The force also excluded Downing Street’s festive quiz on 15 December 2020 but did look at a Cabinet Office Christmas quiz held two days later.

Police investigated two further celebrations on 17 December 2020, which were separate leaving do’s for Cabinet Office and Downing Street officials.

Downing Street’s alleged 18 December 2020 Christmas party was under police investigation, as was a gathering for two Number 10 private secretaries on 14 January last year.

Two celebrations held on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral – 16 April – for Downing Street’s then-director of communications James Slack and Mr Johnson’s personal photographer – were also part of Scotland Yard’s probe.

According to reports, attendees danced to music and at one point a staffer was sent to a local Co-op supermarket with a suitcase that they filled with bottles of wine.

The report said that police decided not to investigate gatherings on four dates because they were “not considered to have reached the threshold for criminal investigation”.

“No conclusions should be drawn, or inferences made from this other than it is now for the police to consider the relevant material in relation to those incidents,” it added.

“The police have also said this does not in itself mean that they will decide to take further action or that there has necessarily been a breach of the regulations.”

The Metropolitan Police duly contacted people it suspected of breaching Covid restrictions in writing, asking whether they had a “reasonable excuse” in law for the gathering.

If they did not, it had the power to issue fines of between £100 and £10,000, depending on the law that was in force at the time and the size of the event and the person’s role.

The events investigated by the police were:

20 May 2020

– In the garden of No 10 Downing Street for No 10 staff

18 June 2020

– In the Cabinet Office, 70 Whitehall to mark the departure of a No 10 private secretary

19 June 2020

– In the Cabinet room in No 10 Downing Street on the PM’s birthday

13 November 2020

– In the No 10 Downing Street flat

– In No 10 Downing Street to mark the departure of a special adviser

17 December 2020

– In Cabinet Office, 70 Whitehall for an online Christmas quiz for the Cabinet Secretary’s private office

– In Cabinet Office, 70 Whitehall to mark the departure of a senior Cabinet Office official

– In No 10 Downing Street for the departure of a No 10 official

18 December 2020

– In No 10 Downing Street ahead of the Christmas break

14 January 2021

– In No 10 Downing Street on the departure of two No 10 private secretaries

16 April 2021

– In No 10 Downing Street for the departure of a senior No 10 official

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