Boris Johnson has ‘full confidence’ in civil servant who issued lockdown party invite

Downing Street refuses to reveal whether prime minister aware of drinks plans

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Tuesday 11 January 2022 13:59
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Boris Johnson retains “full confidence” in the senior civil servant who issued an invitation for 100 staff to attend a Downing Street drinks event during lockdown, No 10 has said.

Martin Reynolds remains in post as the prime minister’s principal private secretary, one of the most crucial roles in No 10, said Mr Johnson’s official spokesman.

There has been speculation that Mr Reynolds might be forced out of his post after ITV News obtained an email in which he invited No 10 staff to a “bring your own booze” event in the Downing Street garden on 20 May 2020.

The email read: “Hi all,

“After what has been an incredibly busy period we thought it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No10 garden this evening.

“Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!”

It has been claimed that around 40 people took part in the event, eating picnic food and drinking wine around a long table set out in the No 10 garden.

Crucially, Mr Johnson and his wife Carrie are said to have been present for at least part of the evening.

One former government special adviser said that a private secretary like Mr Reynolds was unlikely to have organised such a drinks unless “the instruction came from the top”.

“The private secretary works on behalf of the PM in this case,” Claire Pearsall told Sky News.

But Mr Johnson’s spokesperson declined to say whether the PM was aware of Mr Reynolds’ invitation or had instructed him to send it out.

Under sustained questioning about the party from journalists at a daily Westminster media briefing, the spokesperson repeatedly said that he was unable to comment ahead of the completion of an inquiry by senior mandarin Sue Gray.

“An independent investigation is ongoing,” said the spokesperson. “I can’t comment on reports and claims. It wouldn’t be appropriate to do so.”

He refused to say whether the “we” referred to in Mr Reynolds’ email included the prime minister or any other member of the Downing Street team.

Mr Reynolds is a career civil servant and diplomat, who served as principal private secretary at the Foreign Office between 2014-18, working closely with Johnson in that post during his time as foreign secretary from 2016-18.

In 2019, he was appointed UK ambassador to Libya, but was recalled to London to join Mr Johnson in Number 10 in September, shortly after his arrival in office.

The principal private secretary runs the PM’s private office, giving him or her a key role as “gatekeeper” to the prime minister.

Mr Johnson’s former aide Dominic Cummings has described the PPS as the official with the greatest formal powers over what happens inside No 10.

“The PPS exercises farmore influence and actual power over many issues than cabinet ministers,” said Mr Cummings.

“He can nudge policy, he can nudge vital appointments (real power). He can and does walk into the PM’s office and exclude all political people ‘on security grounds’.”

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