In Depth

A timeline of the Downing Street lockdown party allegations

Investigation by Scotland Yard delays Sue Gray’s report into No. 10 gatherings

A police investigation has been launched into the parties held in Downing Street while the country was under lockdown restrictions.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick has said the force is looking into “potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations” since 2020 after it received information from the Cabinet Office inquiry, led by Sue Gray.

A spokesman for Boris Johnson said the prime minister did not think he had broken the law.

He told the Commons he welcomed the investigation, which may delay the publication of Gray’s report into alleged lockdown breaches. Sky News said “a final decision on whether to publish in the coming days has not yet been taken”.

1

15 May 2020

The first of the alleged restriction breaches took place days after Johnson announced that the country would begin taking the “first careful steps” out of lockdown, the Evening Standard said. At the time, restrictions meant people could not leave home without a reasonable excuse and could only meet one person outside while exercising.

An investigation by The Guardian, however, led to the publication of a picture of Johnson, flanked by Carrie Johnson and his then chief adviser Dominic Cummings, drinking wine and eating cheese in the No. 10 garden.

That day, the health secretary at the time, Matt Hancock, had urged “people to stick to the rules and not take advantage of the good weather over the May weekend to socialise in groups”.

2

20 May 2020

One of the most explosive of the alleged lockdown parties was revealed when an email leaked to ITV News showed more than 100 Downing Street staff were invited for drinks in the garden of No. 10 to “make the most of the lovely weather”.

Sent by Johnson’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds, the email invited employees including advisers, speech writers and door staff to come over and “bring your own booze”.

The senior civil servant wrote: “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 No. 10 garden this evening.”

Johnson admitted during a bruising Prime Minister’s Questions appearance last week that he attended for around “25 minutes” but thought it was a “work event”. Sources later told The Times that he was seen “wandering round glad-handing people” during the event attended by Carrie Johnson and Henry Newman, then an adviser to Michael Gove and now a senior No. 10 figure.

3

19 June 2020

ITV News this week reported that a birthday party was held in the Cabinet Room for Johnson with up to 30 people. His wife Carrie apparently presented him with a cake and “led staff in a chorus of happy birthday”, said the broadcaster.

No. 10 responded saying: “A group of staff working in No 10 that day gathered briefly in the Cabinet Room after a meeting to wish the prime minister a happy birthday. He was there for less than ten minutes.”

4

5 November 2020

In early November, new lockdown restrictions were introduced to deal with rising Covid-19 infections and hospitalisations. The new rules meant people were forced to stay at home unless doing essential activities. Indoor gatherings were also banned.

5

13 November 2020

According to allegations laid out by former No. 10 adviser Cummings, a gathering was held eight days after the introduction of new rules on the evening that he was sacked.

Cummings tweeted: “Will the [cabinet secretary] also be asked to investigate the *flat* party on Fri 13 Nov, the other flat parties, & the flat’s ‘bubble’ policy…?”

His reference to the cabinet secretary came after Johnson instructed Simon Case to investigate claims of a Christmas party in Downing Street, telling MPs that he was “furious” at footage leaked of senior aides joking about the event.

6

25 November 2020

The Treasury was forced on to the defensive late last year after The Times revealed an “impromptu” party was held in late November 2020 to celebrate Rishi Sunak’s autumn spending review.

A spokesperson told The Guardian that a “small number” had remained after work to celebrate at their desks. According to The Times, “about two dozen civil servants” took part in the drinks after “wine and beer were brought into the Treasury”.

“They’d all been working really hard,” sources told the paper. “They had to be in the office anyway that day. It wasn’t a formal party but perhaps in hindsight it wasn’t the most sensible thing to do.” 

7

27 November 2020

Two days later, it was alleged that the prime minister attended a leaving event for Cleo Watson, a former Downing Street adviser. 

A source told The Guardian “that Johnson personally attended and gave a speech”, mentioning how crowded it was in the room before leaving shortly afterwards to continue working.

8

2 December 2020

The second national lockdown was replaced with the tier system, which sees London placed into “tier two” restrictions. This means a ban on indoor meetings of two or more people.

9

10 December 2020

Eight days later, the Department for Education held a Christmas party at which two dozen people drank in the department canteen. Susan Acland-Hood, a senior civil servant, said it had been organised at the request of former education secretary Gavin Williamson, The Guardian reported.

10

Mid-December 2020

Simon Case, the cabinet secretary tasked with investigating the numerous breaches of lockdown restrictions by Downing Street and Whitehall staff, attended an impromptu drinks gathering in mid-December 2020.

It has emerged that having “stepped down from the investigation into allegations of lockdown-busting government parties”, Case “still stands to oversee any disciplinary action arising from that same investigation”, Politico said. 

11

14 December 2020

Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate for London mayor, was forced to apologise last month after a photograph emerged of a Christmas party held at the Tories’ campaign headquarters in London alongside 24 other people the previous year. 

He also resigned from both his committee chairmanships at the London Assembly.

12

15 December 2020

Pictures published in the Daily Mirror last month showed Johnson hosting an online quiz in Downing Street in December 2020. He was seen with two members of his team wearing tinsel and a Santa hat.​​ 

A source told the paper “many staff huddled by computers, conferring on questions and knocking back fizz, wine and beer from a local Tesco Metro”. The image serves to “seriously undermine Downing Street’s claims” that “no parties had taken place in No.10”, said the paper.

13

16 December 2020

The Department for Transport was forced to apologise over allegations that a dozen of Grant Shapps’s team were “boozing and dancing” during a Christmas party on the same day that London had moved to the highest tier of restrictions at the time.

14

17 December 2020

The Cabinet Office has confirmed that staff took part in a virtual quiz on 17 December 2020, which was reportedly listed in digital calendars as “Christmas party!” in Simon Case’s office. 

Politics.co.uk quoted a spokesperson as saying: “The Cabinet Secretary played no part in the event, but walked through the team’s office on the way to his own office.”

“Dozens” of officials from the Cabinet Office’s Covid-19 taskforce also attended a “boozy” leaving party for their boss Kate Josephs, according to The Telegraph. The bash was hosted in the 70 Whitehall office of the government unit while “the country was still under draconian restrictions” drawn up by the taskforce.

Following the paper's revelations about the party, Josephs, who left the civil service to become chief executive officer of Sheffield Council, tweeted a statement in which she apologised “unreservedly”, adding: “I have been cooperating fully with the Cabinet Office investigations.”

“I gathered with colleagues that were at work that day, with drinks, in our office in the Cabinet Office, to mark my leaving the Civil Service,” she said. “I am truly sorry that I did this and for the anger that people will feel as a result.”

She also resigned as CEO of Sheffield Council.

15

18 December 2020

A second Christmas party, also revealed by the Daily Mirror, took place in No. 10. 

“Officials knocked back glasses of wine during a Christmas quiz and a Secret Santa while the rest of the country was forced to stay at home,” said the paper. 

One source described the event as “a Covid nightmare” in which around “40 or 50” were crammed “cheek by jowl” into a medium-sized room in Downing Street.

16

16 April 2021

Two further leaving events, one for departing director of communications James Slack and a second for a Downing Street photographer, took place on the evening before Prince Philip’s funeral.

“It is alleged that excessive alcohol was drunk, while at points, guests danced,” The Telegraph said. “The gatherings stretched late into the night – well beyond midnight.”

During the leaving do for the former photographer, staff “spent much of the evening in the No. 10 basement”, an area with “limited ventilation”. 

“Someone was sent to the Co-op on the Strand, a busy street nearby, with a suitcase which was then filled with bottles of wine and brought back to Downing Street,” the paper added. “A laptop had been placed on a photocopier and music was blaring out.”

Those attending the party spilled out into the Downing Street garden, where one guest “had a go” on a swing belonging to the prime minister’s son, breaking it in the process.

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