Raab on Photo of 2020 BoJo Gathering With No 10 Staff Amid Lockdown: Rules Were Observed
15:22 GMT 20.12.2021 (Updated: 21:39 GMT 18.10.2022)
Johnson is now under pressure over a spate of scandals, with the latest pertaining to media reports that social events were held inside Downing Street ahead of last year’s Christmas, when England was under strict COVID rules.
A spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
has said it was not out of line with COVID regulations to have a drink for those who were outside while discussing work.
The statement referred to a photo recently published by The Guardian, which appears to show BoJo drinking wine with his staff at a Downing Street garden during the May 2020 coronavirus lockdown.
According to the spokesperson, the photo shows individuals who were meeting to discuss work, something that was echoed in an interview by British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab.
Speaking to the BBC, Raab said that he knows “how hard that No 10 team were working, as the hub, the fulcrum of the crisis response”.
“I think there’s a lot of exhausted people, and they, as people do in work, were having a drink after the formal business had been done”, Raab argued, insisting that the actions were fully in sync with lockdown regulations imposed in England at the time.
The deputy prime minister said in a nod to the photo that “this [Downing Street garden] is a workplace” and that “they had a drink after what had been a gruelling day, and period, and that was consistent with the rules”.
According to Raab, “this wasn’t a social occasion. This was people having a drink after a busy set of work meetings and the business of the day”.
The comments came after Whitehall denied late last week media reports that Johnson joined the No 10 staff for a party at Downing Street on 15 May 2020, during which he allegedly told one aide that they had deserved a drink for “beating back” COVID-19.
Commenting on the photo, a government spokesperson said that “[…] work meetings often take place in the Downing Street garden in the summer months” and that “on this occasion there were staff meetings following a No. 10 press conference”.
“Downing Street is the Prime Minister's home as well as his workplace. The Prime Minister's wife lives in No. 10 and therefore also legitimately uses the garden”, the spokesperson added.
In the picture, Johnson is seen sitting with then-fiancée Carrie Symonds and two others at a table, where bottles of wine and a cheeseboard can be observed.
Four other staff members are seen sitting around a second table, with nine more staffers gathering closely together around a table on the grass, plus another two sitting on the ground nearby. All of those present seemingly did not bother to “observe social distance”.
12 December 2021, 06:29 GMT
During the May 2020 coronavirus-related restrictions, Britons were urged to maintain a two-metre distance even during outdoor meetings. Gatherings of more than two people were prohibited and face-to-face meetings at workplaces were allowed only if "absolutely necessary". Schools, cafes and pubs were closed.
As for the photo row, it comes as the pollsters YouGov showed that Johnson’s approval rating as prime minister has dropped to an all-time low following an array of scandals surrounding the UK PM, including one related to a Christmas party held at Downing Street last year, when such gatherings were strictly prohibited under the COVID-19 restrictions
. Johnson has repeatedly insisted no rules were broken during the party.