Timeline of alleged gatherings across government during Covid restrictions

Boris Johnson is facing intense scrutiny over latest reports of a party in the No 10 rose garden on 20 May, 2020

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Friday 14 January 2022 09:42
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Boris Johnson is facing intense scrutiny over further allegations of rule-busting gatherings in No 10 as the rest of the country was subject to strict lockdown measures to contain the spread of coronavirus.

After a leaked email showed over 100 No 10 staff were invited to “bring your own booze” event in the Downing Street garden on 20 May 2020, including the prime minister and his wife, Carrie, MPs within his own party have also called on Mr Johnson to resign.

Here The Independent looks at all the allegations of gatherings across No 10, government and at the Conservative Party headquarters.

15 May 2020

A joint investigation by The Independent and The Guardian revealed a wine and pizza gathering was held in the No 10 rose garden on 15 May 2020 — despite people from different households being restricted to one-on-one meetings with family members and friends outdoors.

An image later published by The Guardian showed wine and cheese being consumed by the prime minister, his wife, Carrie, advisers including Dominic Cummings and Matt Hancock, the former health secretary. Mr Johnson has previously insisted “those people were at work, talking about work”.

20 May 2020

In a blog just last week, Mr Cummings, the prime minister’s former chief adviser, dismissed the 15 May event showed an after-work party, insisting it was common practice at the time for meetings to be held in the garden due to the risk of Covid. However, he claimed that a “socially distanced drinks” event did take place on 20 May 2020, with a “senior No 10 official” inviting people.

The row exploded as a leaked email sent from the prime minister’s private secretary showed over 100 No 10 staff were invited to the event, told to “bring your own booze” and “make the most of the lovely weather”.

Boris Johnson has refused to say whether he attended, but a source told The Independent he had “hung out” with staff for at least an hour as they knocked back drinks.

The event will be investigated by Sue Gray, the senior civil servant tasked with probing rule breaking allegations, and on Monday evening the Metropolitan Police said they were “in contact” with the Cabinet Office over alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations in No 10 on 20 May.

13 November 2020

Another allegation made by Mr Cummings was of a “flat party” in Mr Johnson official residence with Carrie Johnson on 13 November 2020 — the same day the Vote Leave chief left Downing Street with immediate effect and just eight days after England’s second national lockdown was imposed. Last week, he claimed to have been told that staff in the press office “could hear the music playing loudly”.

Asked at prime minister’s questions last month whether there was a No 10 party on 13 November, Mr Johnson said “no”, but added: “I’m sure that whatever happened the guidance was followed at all times”.

27 November 2020

A leaving event was reported to have been held on 27 November for adviser Cleo Watson, with the prime minister personally delivering a speech while alcohol was consumed. Mr Cummings, a close ally of Ms Watson, has insisted there was no party on this date, but Ms Gray’s investigation into rule-breaking allegations is examining this event.

10 December 2020

It has been confirmed that Ms Gray’s inquiry will include a social event at the London offices of the Department for Education (DfE) on 10 December 2020, instigated by the then-education secretary Gavin Williamson to thank his staff.

At the time of the gathering, people in the capital were subject to Tier 2 restrictions, which banned mixing between households indoors while people were allowed to meet in groups of six outdoors.

The department has admitted a “gathering of colleagues” took place on 10 December, with “drink ad snacks brought by those attending”, adding: “While this was work-related, looking back we accept it would have been better not have gathered in this way at that particular time”.

14 December 2020

Four days later, on 10 December, with Londoners still subject to Tier 2 restrictions, a party took place at the Conservative Party headquarters in Westminster. A spokesperson for the party has previously said the event was “unauthorised” and “formal disciplinary action” was taken against four CCHQ staff seconded to the then London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey’s campaign.

The Mirror newspaper later published an image of the gathering — leading to the resignation of Mr Bailey from an official role at the London Assembly as chair of the police and crime committee. Given the event was held in the offices of a political party, it does not fall under the remit of Ms Gray’s probe, but the Metropolitan Police said it would contact two people who attended.

15 December 2020

The following day, on 15 December 2020, No 10 staff were involved in a festive quiz, with reports suggesting invites were sent out in advance. An image later published by the Sunday Mirror showed the prime minister flanked by colleagues, with one draped in tinsel and another wearing a Santa hat.

Downing Street said the prime minister had “briefly” attended the quiz — after the photographic evidence emerged — but insisted it was a virtual event and claimed he broke no rules.

16 December 2020

The Mirror reported senior civil servants were “boozing and dancing” at the event, allegedly planned by staff from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ office.

A DfT spokesman said: “Fewer than a dozen staff who were working in the office had a low-key, socially distanced gathering in the large open-plan office after work on December 16, where food and drink was consumed. We recognise this was inappropriate and apologise for the error of judgment.”

18 December 2020

Allegations of a Christmas party held in No 10 on 18 December 2020 were the focus of much anger at the end of the last year when the reports first emerged in the Daily Mirror newspaper. The event happened while London was in strict Tier 3 measures, and just a day before Boris Johnson imposed an effective lockdown in the capital and vast swathes of the country.

After initially stonewalling questions of the get-together, Mr Johnson was forced to address the issue in the Commons after the explosive leak of a video showing No 10 staff holding a mock press conference and making jokes about a Christmas party. It led to the resignation of government aide Allegra Stratton and the prime minister announcing a Whitehall investigation led by Sue Gray, claiming he was “shocked” but the video.

“I apologise unreservedly for the offence that it has caused up and down the country, and apologise for the impression that it gives,” Mr Johnson told MPs.

16 April 2021

The latest reports of gatherings at No 10 appeared in the Daily Telegraph, the prime minister’s former employer, alleging that two parties took place on the evening of Friday 16 April 2021 – when England was under step 2 Covid restrictions which banned indoor mixing. They also occurred on the evening before Prince Philip’s funeral at St George’s Chapel that saw the Queen sit alone, wearing a face mask, at a socially-distanced ceremony to bid farewell to her husband of 73 years.

According to the newspaper, witnesses said that “excessive alcohol” was drunk, attendees danced to music DJ’d by a special adviser and at one point a staffer was allegedly sent to a local Co-op supermarket with a suitcase which they filled with bottles of wine before returning to the party.

Both events were said to be leaving parties for staff working in the prime minister’s inner team. One was held for James Slack, the then-director of communications at No 10, who now works as deputy editor-in-chef at The Sun newspaper, and the other for Mr Johnson’s personal photographer.

In a statement issued on Friday, Mr Slack said: “I wish to apologise unreservedly for the anger and hurt caused. This event should not have happened at the time that it did. I am deeply sorry, and take full responsibility”. However, Mr Slack said he could not comment further on as the matter had been referred to an investigation being carried out by Sue Gray.

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