Met Police ‘In Contact’ With Cabinet Office Over BoJo Aide’s Leaked ‘BYOB’ Lockdown Party Invite
05:23 GMT 11.01.2022 (Updated: 05:29 GMT 11.01.2022)
The Number 10 "partygate" row is just one of a slew of scandals that have set Boris Johnson in the crosshairs, with a Whitehall investigation currently probing multiple allegations of COVID-19 rule-breaching gatherings at Downing Street and other government buildings during the first UK lockdown in 2020.
In the latest twist to the No 10 “partygate” scandal
, on Monday night the Metropolitan Police announced it was “aware of widespread reporting relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at Downing Street on 20 May 2020” and was in contact with the Cabinet Office.
The Met added that senior officers would discuss the situation on Tuesday morning, in what appears to be a step away from earlier statements from the force that its policy “not to investigate retrospective breaches of such regulations”.
The developments followed new accusations levelled at Boris Johnson, who has been accused of “snapping” COVID-19 lockdown rules.
One of the UK Prime Minister’s top aides invited more than 100 Downing Street staff to a “bring your own booze” (BYOB) party on 20 May 2020, during the first lockdown in the country, according to a leaked email shared with ITV News.
"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!" stated the email, sent by the Prime Minister's Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds to No 10 employees, including Johnson’s advisors, speechwriters and door staff, said the outlet.
Around 40 staff are believed to have eventually gathered in the garden on the evening in question, with picnic food and wine laid out on the tables.
Among those attending were the Prime Minister and his wife Carrie Johnson, at the time his fiancée.
At the time of the first lockdown, introduced in late March 2020, social mixing between households was limited to two people, who could only meet outdoors and with social distancing of at least 2 metres.
According to the Met police, people could enjoy a picnic, exercise or do sport outdoors only “on your own, with people you live with, or just you and one other person”.
Some Downing Street staff reportedly had reservations about attending the gathering, with one staffer cited by the BBC as saying:
“… Why is Martin encouraging a mass gathering in the garden?”
Former Johnson aide, Dominic Cummings, first revealed in his blog
on Friday that on 20 May 2020 a senior No 10 official invited people to “socially distanced drinks” in the garden. Cummings, who departed as the PM’s chief Downing Street adviser in November 2020, claimed that he and at least one other special adviser “said that this seemed to be against the rules and should not happen”. According to him, the advice was ignored.
While No 10 did not deny this weekend that Johnson and his wife, Carrie, attended the event in question, fresh questions will be asked about the Prime Minister’s role in the gathering due to the use of the phrase “we thought it would be nice” in the leaked email invite.
There has not been any official comment from Downing Street in the wake of the new revelations.
Tory MPs and the opposition fumed over the new purported evidence that the PM had disregarded coronavirus rules that the rest of the nation was required to strictly observe at the time.
“I think this is the worst exposed the prime minister has ever been by these leaks. There’s no explanation, there’s no way to distance himself. His only saviour is if the public has given up caring,” an MP was cited by The Guardian as saying.
Another senior Tory source reportedly added:
“The rules were not just tweaked but snapped in half. This is now incredibly close to the PM. It’s very tricky to sack someone [Reynolds] for a party he [Johnson] attended.”
The email by Martin Reynolds is currently believed to be part of evidence studied by the Cabinet Office probe, led by senior civil servant Sue Gray and launched by the PM to determine whether rules had been broken during staff gatherings in government buildings in 2020 during the pandemic lockdown. Gray had taken over from Simon Case who recused himself
after it emerged that a Christmas quiz had been held at his department amid COVID restrictions.
The 20 May party that now piles more pressure on the Prime Minister came five days after a 15 May 2020 “wine and pizza” party across the 10 Downing Street terrace and lawn, reported by The Guardian.
After a No 10 spokesperson had insisted earlier that a “work meeting” had taken place on that day, in late December the outlet had published a photograph
of Boris Johnson and Carrie Johnson sitting with officials, including Martin Reynolds, at a table with wine and cheese. Around 15 other staff-members could be seen in the background. Dominic Cummings, who is also present in the picture, insisted in his Friday blog post there was nothing “illegal or unethical” regarding that day’s “staff meeting”.
17 December 2021, 07:40 GMT
There have been reports
of at least five other alleged gatherings in Downing Street and Whitehall in winter 2020, when strict coronavirus rules were in place in a bid to stop the spread of the respiratory disease.
These purportedly include a Christmas party, a staffer’s leaving gathering, a quiz, No 11 flat party and drinks at the Department for Education.
After the latest revelations, there have been calls for Boris Johnson to be interviewed by Sue Gray’s probe about gatherings during the first lockdown. The UK Labour Party’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said:
“Boris Johnson has consistently shown that he has no regard for the rules he puts in place for the rest of us. He is trying to get officials to take the fall for his own mistakes, but he sets the tone for the way Downing Street and the rest of government operates.”
Ian Blackford, the SNP Westminster leader, slammed the damning email as “utterly outrageous”.
“Boris Johnson must come clean and admit whether he attended, or was aware of, this Covid rule-breaking party in his own back garden. If the prime minister had a shred of integrity or an ounce of shame, he would have resigned many months ago. He has no moral authority left, and as he won’t go – his Tory MPs have a duty to remove him from power,” said Blackford.