Boris Johnson at a 2017 speech. Image: Chatham House/Flickr
More than 360 people died from Covid-19 on the day Downing Street staff held a “bring your own booze” party in the garden of Number 10 during the first coronavirus lockdown in May 2020.
A further 10,000 were in hospital on May 20, then-Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said in the day’s 5pm press conference, reminding the nation’s viewers that “you can meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor public place, provided you stay two metres apart”.
More than 40 Downing Street staff were then reported to have gathered for drinks following an email invitation from top civil servant Martin Reynolds, principal private secretary to the prime minister, who wrote:
“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!”
Multiple news outlets have reportedly seen the email, while sources told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg some staff at Number 10 reacted with shock, with one asking a colleague “is this for real?”.
Another is reported to have asked: “Um. Why is Martin encouraging a mass gathering in the garden?”
The Metropolitan Police, which has said it is aware of the allegations, reminded Londoners on the same day: “You can relax, have a picnic, exercise or play sport, as long as you are on your own, with other people you live with, [or with] just you and one other person”.
Johnson refused to deny attending the party on Monday, telling reporters: “All that, as you know, is the subject of a proper investigation by Sue Gray.”
Top civil servant Gray is investigating other reports of Christmas and summer parties at Number 10 during successive lockdowns, when such gatherings were illegal. Johnson’s words will be little comfort to people who were unable to see family and friends while restrictions were in place.
Lisa Nandy, Labour MP for Wigan and shadow secretary for levelling up, tweeted: “My inbox is full of heartbreaking emails from people who were achingly lonely, desperate to see their grandkids or parents and couldn’t say goodbye to loved ones. Nothing but anger and contempt this morning for a PM who made the rules, broke them and then told us he didn’t.”
Louise from Warwickshire told Good Morning Britain she buried her son six days before the Downing Street party on May 20, but had a restricted service with family members who couldn’t attend.
“Fred is buried in the churchyard in our village… we had a graveside 10 minute service with 10 of us,” she said. “That included Fred’s granddad, his aunts and uncles and some of his cousins but not all of them. And none of his friends. And none of our friends either.
She continued: “What becomes so clear of the tone of that email and the tone of how they are talking about it is they have no idea how frightened everybody was and how terrified people were about putting their loved ones in danger. And we were certainly not the only family that felt that.
“In the months that followed… we were really frightened that we couldn’t sustain any more loss, we couldn’t cope with any more illness, hospitals, and it’s so clear that the government didn’t feel that.”
A photo emerged in December of staff drinking wine and beer in the Number 10 garden five days earlier, on May 15. Downing Street brushed the images aside as a “work meeting”, despite almost 20 people in attendance, including Johnsons wife and child.
The build-up to Christmas 2021 was dominated by stories of festive parties at Number 10 the previous year, when hundreds more people were dying each day and
Your local vendor is at the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis this Winter. Prices of energy and food are rising rapidly. As is the cost of rent. All at their highest rate in 40 years. Vendors are amongst the most vulnerable people affected. Support our vendors to earn as much as they can and give them a fighting chance this Winter.