Downing Street Officials 'P**sing Themselves' Amid Probe Into Illegal Parties During Pandemic

© AFP 2022 / JUSTIN TALLISThe annual Downing Street Christmas tree is pictured outside 10 Downing Street, in central London on December 1, 2021. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)
The annual Downing Street Christmas tree is pictured outside 10 Downing Street, in central London on December 1, 2021. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) - Sputnik International, 1920, 30.12.2021
The government of Boris Johnson and the prime minister himself have been accused of violating coronavirus safety rules, a claim the PM has denied despite two pictures showing Mr Johnson sitting close to officials at gatherings when COVID-19 restrictions banned social mixing between different households.
No 10 officials and aides are "p**sing themselves" after being ordered to attend formal interviews as part of a probe into holding and attending parties in breach of government rules on COVID-19, The Times wrote, citing sources.

According to the newspaper, Susan Gray, second permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, who is leading the investigation, has demanded that civil servants and special advisers working in the heart of the government be questioned about the illegal gatherings.

The probe was initiated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who put Simon Case, Cabinet secretary and had of the Home Civil Service, in charge of it. He stepped down and was replaced by Susan Gray after local media reported that parties were held by his own private office.

According to The Times, Ms Gray, who served as the director-general of propriety and ethics at the Cabinet Office between 2012 and 2018, has a reputation of being the most powerful civil servant and is feared by ministers and officials. She has dealt with complaints against ministers and her inquiry into the so-called Plebgate scandal led to the resignation of Government Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell.

What Are the Allegations?

At the beginning of the month, local media reported, citing insiders, that government officials organised a Christmas party at Downing Street on 18 December 2020 at a time when work parties and lunches were prohibited and gatherings of two or more people were banned. The party in question was allegedly attended by up to 50 individuals.

Downing Street along with several ministers have denied the report. However, a video was later leaked to ITV showing the prime minister's then-Press Secretary Allegra Stratton joking about a wine and cheese business meeting that was "not socially distanced".

Since then, there have been several revelations about parties and gatherings held in the government in breach of the very rules the authorities had themselves set. Two photos released by the media show Prime Minister Boris Johnson at those gatherings visibly violating coronavirus restrictions.

The first image, taken on 15 December 2020, shows Mr Johnson at a Christmas quiz party sitting together with two colleagues, which local media wrote was a violation of safety rules as social mixing between households was prohibited back then.
One insider told The Daily Mirror that there were four teams, each made up of six people, at the quiz. The other source said that Johnson joined the party for 10-15 minutes, but noted that other participants stayed until 11pm drinking and chatting.

"Nobody ever questioned whether this was against the rules or if we shouldn’t be doing this. We all just went ahead and did it. At the time we didn’t even click that what we were doing was so severely wrong. I’ve realised now that it was actually pretty outrageous. We felt like we were working extremely hard and working a lot of hours. Looking back, I accept we shouldn’t have done that", the insider said.

The prime minister has dismissed the allegations made against him and aides.

"I can tell you guidelines were followed at all times. I’ve satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times", Boris Johnson said.

Several days after the first image was released, a second photo of the prime minister surrounded by aides and his wife Carrie Johnson was published by the press. It shows 19 officials gathered outdoors in the Downing Street garden on 15 May 2020.
Back then, social mixing outdoors was limited to two people who could meet at a distance of two metres. The people in the photo do not appear to observe social distancing and there is wine and cheese on the table where the prime minister is sitting.

Downing Street has argued that the gathering was a work meeting.

"In the summer months Downing Street staff regularly use the garden for some meetings. On 15 May 2020 the prime minister held a series of meetings throughout the afternoon, including briefly with the then health and care secretary and his team in the garden following a press conference", Johnson’s spokesperson said.

In all, government officials reportedly took part in around 10 gatherings that violated the COVID-19 rules. Susan Gray is said to be probing four of them.
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