Dominic Raab undermines claim that Boris Johnson was working while drinking wine with staff during lockdown

‘Sometimes they’ll have a drink after a long day or a long week’, deputy prime minister says

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 20 December 2021 08:11
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Raab says it was staff having a drink after meetings in No 10 garden photo

Dominic Raab has undermined No 10’s claim that Boris Johnson was working while enjoying wine and cheese with staff in the No 10 garden during lockdown – saying it was “after” work had finished.

Downing Street has defended the get-together – in May last year – on the grounds that “there were staff meetings after a No 10 press conference”, even though the group is eating and drinking.

Mr Raab also defended the event, insisting it complied with social mixing rules during the first lockdown because No 10 is a place of work and the garden is “used for work meetings”.

But the deputy prime minister admitted: “Sometimes they’ll have a drink after a long day or a long week.”

Mr Raab also said, of a picture of the gathering: “I think there’s a lot of exhausted people and they, as people do in work, have a drink after – after the formal business had been done.”

Boris and Carrie Johnson were pictured in the No 10 garden with staff drinking wine

On BBC Breakfast, he said it had been “a gruelling day”, insisting: “This wasn’t a social occasion. It was staff having a drink after a busy set of work meetings and the pressures of the day.”

Later, the deputy prime minister appeared to concede that a succession of leaks about rule-busting parties in Downing Street last year – including the photo – were an insider’s attempt to damage Mr Johnson.

“I think it’s certainly been done with an animus but, beyond that, I couldn’t really comment,” Mr Raab told BBC Radio 4.

The photo of the gathering captures bottles of wine, servings of cheese, little social distancing and 19 people in groups spread across the Downing Street terrace and lawn.

At the time, people were only allowed to meet one other person from outside their household and only at a distance of at least 2 metres.

In workplaces, government guidance said in-person meetings should only take place if “absolutely necessary”.

Rachel Reeves, Labour’s shadow chancellor, said the get-together “defies all sense of reasonableness”, saying: “Last year, the government were partying, this year the government’s hiding.”

Asked if Mr Johnson should step down, she said: “I think it is really difficult for the prime minister to set rules now and expect other people to follow them.”

Mr Raab swerved questions about whether further Covid restrictions will be introduced before Christmas, after government advisers said they are needed to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed.

Ministers probably need to decide today, if the Commons is to be recalled for a promised vote before Christmas, but the cabinet is thought to be divided, many questioning the scientists’ modelling.

Mr Raab said: “All of us question the advice and I don’t think that should be presented in some sort of tectonic opposition to the scientists.”

Pressed if he is one of the ministers resisting tougher restrictions, he replied: “No, I fully support the approach that the government has taken so far.

“But it’s absolutely right ... I mean it’d be odd if cabinet and ministers weren’t in the meetings we have, testing the data and the approach. Actually, that’s very healthy.”

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