Revealed: Full extent of boozing, debauchery and blatant Covid rule-breaking inside Boris’s No 10

Exclusive: Whistleblower reveals wild parties at which staff passed out on stairs, ‘arrogant’ culture of rule-breaking and says ex-PM knew what was going on

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Monday 19 June 2023 05:30 BST
Moment Boris Johnson misleads Commons claiming rules were followed 'at all times'

A former Downing Street official who worked throughout the Covid crisis has revealed the true scale of the drunken debauchery under Boris Johnson – with No 10 parties so wild that staff passed out on the stairway.

Speaking exclusively to The Independent, the whistleblower said the details in the Partygate report were just the tip of the iceberg when it came to the raucous drinking culture and blatant rule-breaking throughout the pandemic.

They revealed that Mr Johnson was “happy” to have his staff drinking and oversaw a culture of endemic rule-breaking so widespread that it put No 10 at odds with the rest of the country.

The No 10 insider’s new revelations add to the damning evidence in the privileges committee’s scathing report into Mr Johnson – found to have deliberately and repeatedly lied to parliament about Partygate.

The source spoke of their embarrassment at being part of a charade orchestrated to pretend staff were following rules while a grubby reality played out behind closed doors. It came as the insider revealed:

  • Boris Johnson was aware of regular drinks parties during lockdown
  • The former PM oversaw a “toxic masculine culture” at Downing Street
  • No 10 staff were ill “all of the time” but were told “no point” wearing masks
  • Staff travelling with Johnson and Priti Patel were told to put on masks while going through train stations in case of cameras
  • “Panicking” staff started shredding material and deleting pictures after initial Partygate stories

The No 10 insider made clear the culture of non-compliance with Covid rules despite the draconian restrictions placed on the rest of the country.

Social distancing and mask-wearing were not enforced and regular parties – including birthday bashes and “wine-time Fridays” – continued during lockdown.

The former official said Mr Johnson was “happy for people to be drinking” even though he mostly drank water himself. “He wanted to be part of the party … The idea he saw nothing is total nonsense – there is no way he didn’t know they were going on.”

“There were so many parties,” said the ex-official. “Senior staff often stayed all night, sleeping under desks. One colleague was so drunk he was found passed out on the stairs.”

Boris Johnson celebrating his birthday at No 10 in June 2020

The former official said the “utterly ridiculous” culture at No 10 meant it was “widely accepted that we were all breaking the rules”, adding: “When Sky News were live outside we all had to pretend we were adhering to the rules, it was pure theatrics.”

A July 2020 train journey to and from North Yorkshire, during which Mr Johnson and then home secretary Ms Patel where photographed wearing masks, saw staff told only to bother with masks when cameras were present, they claimed.

“Boris and Priti were on a train up north and we were all crammed into a VIP section of a train. Every time we were going through a station we’d all be ordered to put our masks on in case there were cameras on the platform,” the former official said.

“Another particularly ridiculous moment was when Boris announced the lockdown. There he was on camera telling the nation to isolate, then as soon as they stopped filming, he and about five others crowded round a tiny screen to watch himself back – it was ridiculous. Days later he had Covid.”

The whistleblower also revealed that there was a “panic to get rid of evidence” when the first Partygate stories broke at the end of 2021. “People started shredding things and deleting pictures.”

“[Then No 10 communications director] Jack Doyle had handed out a load of awards at these parties and people had them hung up on the walls, but people ended up shredding them because they were evidence a gathering had happened.”

Boris Johnson and Priti Patel on journey from North Yorkshire to London in July 2020

The whistleblower said they remain “angry” at the rule-breaking culture. “We were all ill, all of the time, I had multiple chest infections and Covid twice. I asked a senior colleague why we weren’t wearing masks inside early on, and she said, ‘There’s no point, I’ve seen the science.’

“Police were hunting people down using drones to catch them out walking with friends having a coffee, people were separated at funerals, I saw footage of people’s goodbye messages from hospital – all following rules set in this building. It was embarrassing.”

Becky Kummer, a spokesperson for Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, who lost her 77-year-old father at the height of the pandemic, said the latest claims showed that the crisis was treated as “a good excuse for a knees-up” at No 10.

“Families like mine did everything we could to stick to the rules and protect others,” she told The Independent. “It’s an utter tragedy that Johnson was in charge when the pandemic struck and he should never be allowed to stand for any form of public office again.”

The whistleblower said many No 10 employees enjoyed a “sudden rush of power” when Mr Johnson arrived in June 2019, which got worse over time. “Staff became arrogant, untouchable and weren’t afraid of exercising that feeling.”

The ex-official also condemned the “toxic masculine culture”, saying Mr Johnson “respected and listened to men more than women”.

Boris Johnson near his home in Oxfordshire this week

It comes as a Tory MPs were urged to ignore threats of deselection by Nadine Dorries and back the privileges committee report at a crunch vote in the Commons on Monday. No 10 refused to say whether Rishi Sunak would turn up to vote.

Senior Tory Damian Green, leader of the One Nation group, warned colleagues who are considering keeping clear that abstaining is “not really rising to the importance of the occasion”.

However, Mr Sunak may be spared embarrassment after Mr Johnson told his supporters not to oppose the report in the Commons and enflame the row.

Sir Jake Berry, a friend of Mr Johnson, said it was an “absolute disgrace” that the privileges committee had warned MPs who criticised its work that it will produce a “special report” – accusing the panel of trying to “gag MPs”.

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson has been revealed as the “erudite” new Saturday columnist at the Daily Mail, offering a veiled warning to Mr Sunak that he “may have to cover politics from time to time”.

But the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) – the body which rules on what jobs former ministers can take after office – said it was a “clear breach” for Mr Johnson to have applied for approval only 30 minutes before announcing the Mail column in a video.

The ex-Tory leader is also said to be weighing up an audacious independent bid to become London mayor for a second time after his dramatic fall from grace in the party.

The Financial Times reported that Mr Johnson was considering whether to take on Sadiq Khan in May 2024. Guto Harri, who served as a key aide to Mr Johnson during his last stint at City Hall, told The Independent it would be a “great idea”.

The Independent has approached Mr Johnson’s spokesperson for comment on the new Partygate claims, as well as Ms Patel and Mr Doyle. No 10 declined to comment.

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