Boris Johnson attended a “bring your own booze” event in the Downing Street garden less than an hour after a senior British minister warned that social gatherings were banned, according to witnesses at the gathering.
The event on 20 May 2020, when England was subject to lock-in restrictions, was organized by the head of the Prime Minister’s private office and more than 100 staff members in number 10 were invited.
The position of Martin Reynolds, Johnson’s general secretary since 2019, was in jeopardy after a leaked email showed he had asked staff to “make the most of the lovely weather”.
Johnson’s own attendance at the May 20, 2020 event, which was confirmed by several people and not denied by Downing Street, is expected to give rise to new criticism of his leadership, which was shaken by media reports of a series of alleged illegal government parties.
Johnson has consistently denied that parties that violated coronavirus restrictions in England were held in Downing Street.
In the email that ITV News received, Reynolds told number 10 staff: “Hello everyone. After what was an incredibly busy period, we thought it would be nice to make the most of the glorious weather and “Drink some socially distant drinks in the No. 10 garden tonight. Please join us from 18:00 and bring your own drink!”
The event in the Downing Street Garden was attended by about 40 people, including Johnson and his wife Carrie, according to witnesses.
“It was clearly a violation of the rules,” one witness said. “People drank and sat at tables in different groups. Boris and Carrie were there. There were about 40 people there – it was mainly number 10 staff. “
Less than an hour before drinks and picnic food were served, Oliver Dowden, then culture secretary, held a press conference in which he indicated that such events were not allowed in England.
Under Covid regulations at that time, meetings outside with only one other person were allowed. Johnson imposed fines on offenders – from £ 100 and doubled for each offense to a maximum of £ 3,200.
Dowden told the number 10 press conference on 20 May 2020: “You can meet one person outside your household in an outdoor, public place, provided you live two meters apart.”
The Downing Street Garden Party is being investigated by Sue Gray, a senior Whitehall official, along with allegations of other government events which violated Covid restrictions. Johnson said Monday it would be a “proper investigation.”
Gray is expected to interview Johnson as part of her investigation, which should report by the end of the month. Downing Street said it did not comment while the investigation was ongoing.
Reynolds, who previously served as Johnson’s private secretary at the Foreign Office, is expected to be moved to a new position in the civil service. One official said he was being nominated for an ambassadorial role.
The Metropolitan Police, which has so far refused to get involved in the investigation into alleged parties in Downing Street, are likely to come under new pressure to launch an investigation. The capital’s force did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Met refused in December to launch an investigation into media reports of Downing Street parties in November and December 2020, during Covid restrictions.
The revelation that Johnson attended the Downing Street garden party on May 20, 2020, sent shock waves through the Conservative party. “He’s back in the area of a lot of trouble,” said one Tory veteran.
Lord Gavin Barwell, who served as chief of staff to former Prime Minister Theresa May, described the event as “incredible”. And yet, in another sense, unfortunately too credible. ”
Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the Labor Party, said Johnson was trying to get officials to “take the fall for his own mistakes”. Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said it was “a kick in the teeth” for people who adhered to coronavirus rules.