100 invited to Downing Street garden lockdown drinks

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As many as 100 people were invited to a “bring-your-own-booze” drinks event in the Downing Street garden during the first lockdown, it is understood.

Witnesses have told the BBC the PM and his wife were among about 30 people who attended the gathering on 20 May 2020.

But Boris Johnson has declined to say whether he was among those there.

The Metropolitan Police said it was in contact with the government over “widespread reporting relating to alleged breaches” of Covid rules.

An email, revealed by ITV News, invited people to “socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden this evening”.

It was sent when lockdown restrictions were still in place. Twelve days later – on 1 June – rules in England were relaxed to allow groups of up to six people to meet outside.

Labour said the prime minister would face “serious questions” if he was found to have attended.

But Downing Street declined to comment as it said the gathering – like others reported to have happened under coronavirus restrictions during 2020 – is now being looked into as part of an ongoing independent investigation.

The Liberal Democrats have called for a police investigation, and a Met spokesperson said the force was “aware of widespread reporting relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at Downing Street on 20 May 2020 and is in contact with the Cabinet Office”, which oversees government policy.

Image source, PA Media

Image caption,

Hannah Brady said her father’s death certificate had been signed on the same day the drinks took place

The Wednesday 20 May gathering first came to light last week in a blog by the PM’s former adviser Dominic Cummings.

ITV News has now published what appears to be the full email invitation sent on behalf of Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds.

It has the subject line “Socially Distanced Drinks! [OFFICIAL-SENSITIVE-No 10 ONLY]”.

“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,” the email says.

“Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze.”

On the same day as the gathering, the then Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, gave the Downing Street coronavirus briefing – in which he confirmed another 363 people in the UK had died with Covid in the previous 24 hours.

At the briefing, he told the public: “You can meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor, public place provided that you stay two metres apart.”

That might be your reaction to what we know now – that one of Boris Johnson’s most senior aides emailed around 100 staff in Downing Street for outdoor drinks in May 2020, during the intense early emergency of lockdown.

Martin Reynolds, the principal private secretary (for how much longer?) invited dozens and dozens of staffers to drinks in the garden, socially distanced, but to many people’s minds, in contradiction to the very strict and very clear public guidance to the public at the time that banned socialising in any form.

A jog with a friend in the park or a solitary trudge along the same canal path was just about it.

“Is this for real?” was in fact the reaction of one of the staff who was gobsmacked to receive the email, written down in black and white, in a message to another official shared at the time.

Another, shown to the BBC, said: “Um. Why is Martin encouraging a mass gathering in the garden?”

Those exchanges make it pretty clear that there were concerns at the time. Yet the event went ahead, with, I’m told, around 30 people in attendance.

Read more from Laura here.

Two eyewitnesses have told the BBC they saw Mr Johnson and his wife Carrie at the event in the garden.

And sources have said that several Downing Street members of staff voiced concerns about drinks happening, with one claiming: “There were conversations about the email being really unwise.”

Another added: “I remember people saying, ‘What the hell?'”

Others said a long table had been set up in the garden for the event.

A message sent by one Downing Street staffer to another at the time, shown to the BBC, said: “Um. Why is Martin (Reynolds) encouraging a mass gathering in the garden?” Another asked: “Is this for real?”

In a Twitter post on the day of the gathering, when it was 25C (77F) in London, the Metropolitan Police reminded people they could only relax or exercise outside on their own, with their own household or one person from another household.

Have you been enjoying the hottest day of the year so far? 🌞

It is important that we all continue to #StayAlert

You can relax, have a picnic, exercise or play sport, as long as you are:

➡️ On your own

➡️ With people you live with

➡️ Just you and one other person

— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) May 20, 2020

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

What restrictions were in place for England on 20 May 2020?

  • You could only meet one other person from another household outdoors, with advice to remain 2m (6ft) apart
  • Larger gatherings with people from other households were not allowed, apart from a few exceptions, such as funerals, or where the gathering was essential for work purposes
  • People who could work from home were still asked to do so – but people could attend workplaces if necessary
  • Schools, non-essential shops, hospitality venues and hairdressers remained closed

Hannah Brady, spokeswoman for the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, said her father had died four days before the email was sent.

“At the time, everyone would have known that going to a party was wrong, so how can those running the country have thought it was OK?” she asked.

“To make matters worse, in September last year I sat in that same garden, looked the prime minister in the eyes and told him how my dad had died,” Ms Brady added.

“He told me he had done everything he could to protect my dad, knowing that he had partied in that same spot the very day that dad’s death certificate was signed. It makes me feel sick to think about it.”

Separately last month, the Guardian published a photograph taken on 15 May 2020 – five days before the drinks took place – showing the prime minister, his wife and 17 staff members in the Downing Street garden.

Mr Johnson has said this was not a party and those present were “people at work, talking about work”.

Image source, PA Media

Image caption,

Sue Gray is heading the investigation into gatherings that took place in 2020

In December, the prime minister asked Simon Case, the UK’s top civil servant, to investigate a series of allegations about events taking place in government buildings in 2020 despite coronavirus restrictions being in force.

Mr Case stepped down after suggestions one of the parties had happened in his own office and the investigation was passed to Sue Gray, another senior civil servant.

Asked during a visit to a vaccination centre in west London if he had attended the 20 May drinks, the prime minister said: “All that, as you know, is the subject of a proper investigation by Sue Gray.”

The prime minister’s official spokesman added: “There is an independent process going on to look into this, led by Sue Gray, and I can’t comment further while that is taking place.”

But Labour 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.”

Conservative MP Philip Dunne told BBC Newsnight there was a need for Ms Gray to establish what had happened.

But he added: “If rules have been breached, people will have to suffer the consequences.”

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