Over the last couple of weeks, claims that Downing Street held a number of parties while the country faced strict coronavirus rules have caused uproar.
So much so that prime minister Boris Johnson announced that cabinet secretary Simon Case would investigate whether one of the parties took place – despite the PM and other ministers categorically denying it and claiming Downing Street consistently followed Covid rules during the period.
Unfortunately, though, Case has now stepped down from the inquiry, following allegations of gatherings in his own department. Oh dear.
From quizzes to staff parties, you would be forgiven for perhaps losing track of some of the events reported to have happened.
On 13 November, during the second national lockdown when people worked from home and were banned from meeting people from outside their household, it has been alleged by one Dominic Cummings that Johnson’s then fiancee (now wife) Carrie Symonds hosted a flat party. No wonder they needed gold wallpaper.
A spokesman for Mrs Johnson has called the claim “total nonsense”.
On the same day, Johnson also allegedly gave a speech for Lee Cain as he left his role as director of communications, triggering questions that this event may have counted as a leaving party.
Leaving party (November 27)
Also in the second national lockdown, it has been reported that a leaving do was organised in No 10 for Cleo Watson, a former aide to Cummings, on 27 November.
Sources have claimed Johnson personally attended and gave a speech in which he even spoke about how full the room was.
A source told the Mail: “It wasn’t a party as such, certainly not a Christmas party. It was a whole bunch of people who work in the same building coming together to say goodbye to a very popular member of staff.
“Was drink taken? Yes. Did the PM drop in? Yes. Did people think they were doing anything wrong? No, but in hindsight it’s not a great look.”
Cummings said the party didn’t take place and that people should focus on the alleged 13 November flat party.
The event forms part of the investigation which was ordered by the prime minister.
There was no party on Fri 27/11. Red herring. A staff member left their job. Walked to press office to say bye, PM… https://t.co/N7U96yskIB
Gavin Williamson dishes out the canapes (December 10)
On 10 December last year, London was under strict tier two rules, meaning people were prohibited from socialising with other households.
On the same day, the Mirror reports, up to two dozen of the then education secretary Gavin Williamson’s staff gathered in the department for education cafe for “drinks and canapes” and to listen to him give a short speech.
One source reportedly told the publication: “There were lots of people gathered in the cafe area, mingling and drinking wine. It was just so reckless”.
Another added: “He hosted a drinks do when people were considering whether they could spend Christmas with their families” and the department didn’t deny the event and said “it would have been better” not to have held the event while the rest of the country was banned from doing so.
A spokesman for the department told the Metro: “On December 10 2020 a gathering of colleagues who were already present at the office – and who had worked together throughout the pandemic, as they couldn’t work from home – took place in the DfE office building in London at a time when the city was subject to Tier 2 restrictions.”
This event is also covered by the investigation.
Conservative aides throw a bash at HQ (December 14)
A Tory spokesman said: “Senior CCHQ (Conservative Campaign Headquarters) staff became aware of an unauthorised social gathering in the basement of Matthew Parker Street organised by the Bailey campaign on the evening of December 14.
“Formal disciplinary action was taken against the four CCHQ staff who were seconded to the Bailey campaign.”
If Bailey and his team thought that statement put the matter to bed they were wrong. Days later, the Mirror published photos from the event, which both showed that Tory donor Nick Candy was one of the attendees and that no-one seemed to be having much fun.
Bailey has now resigned from his role as chair of the London Assembly police and crime committee and apologised “unreservedly” for attending the bash.
Downing Street Christmas Party (December 18)
And that brings us to the alleged party that’s been on everyone’s lips, the claim at the centre of the rule-breaking allegations. On 18 December it was reported that Downing Street officials attended an organised party which apparently involved Secret Santa, drinks and getting “rat-arsed”.
The government’s guidance for the Christmas period last year specifically said: “Although there are exemptions for work purposes, you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier.”
There was also a specific prohibition on organising an indoor gathering of more than 30 people and London was in tier three by then, meaning no gatherings of two or more people.
The day after the party – which Johnson is not reported to have attended – he announced that families were not to meet during the festive period if they lived in different households.
The event is at the heart of the investigation.
Christmas quiz (December 15)
At another point in December, according to various reports, a Christmas quiz was apparently held for officials and Conservative advisers working in Downing Street. They were asked to get into teams and attended wearing Christmas jumpers.
The Mirror later published photos of Boris Johnson appearing to host a round of the quiz remotely with aides close to him prompting fresh outrage and questions about how much he knew about what allegedly happening in Downing Street over the festive period.
Downing Street admitted Mr Johnson “briefly” attended the quiz after the photographic evidence emerged but insisted it was a virtual event.
It came after reports that Johnson spent around 15 minutes with staff in the Downing Street garden, telling one aide they deserved a drink for “beating back” coronavirus. Sources said around 20 staff drank wine and spirits and ate pizza following a press conference at which then health secretary Matt Hancock told the British public to stay at home “as much as is possible”.
No 10 has insisted work meetings often took place in the garden, and a leading human rights barrister said it is unlikely the gatherings broke the law, though it may have been against the guidance. But the photo was taken at a time when restrictions on meeting others were still in place.
A spokesperson told The Guardian: “As we said last week, work meetings often take place in the Downing Street garden in the summer months. On this occasion there were staff meetings after a No 10 press conference.
“Downing Street is the Prime Minister’s home as well as his workplace. The Prime Minister’s wife lives in No 10 and therefore also legitimately uses the garden.”
‘Boozing and dancing’ at the Department for Transport party (December 16)
The Mirror reported that senior civil servants were “boozing and dancing” at the event on December 16, allegedly planned by staff from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ office.
A DfT spokesman said: “The Secretary of State wasn’t involved in any gathering at the department.
“Fewer than a dozen staff who were working in the office had a low-key, socially distanced, gathering in the large open-plan office after work on December 16, where food and drink was consumed.
“We recognise this was inappropriate and apologise for the error of judgment.”
Cabinet Office “Christmas party!” (December 17)
A number of outlets reported that a gathering was held in the Cabinet Office – Case’s own department – on 17 December.
The Times reported that Case attended the party in room 103 of the Cabinet Office, that it had been organised by a private secretary in Case’s team, and that it was included in digital calendars as “Christmas party!”.
The Cabinet Office confirmed a quiz took place, but a spokesperson said: “The Cabinet Secretary played no part in the event, but walked through the team’s office on the way to his own office.
“No outside guests or other staff were invited or present.
“This lasted for an hour and drinks and snacks were bought by those attending.
“He also spoke briefly to staff in the office before leaving.”
Goodness. We all know that parties often lead to hangovers, but few events trigger headaches so long lasting, that they reverberate round attendees’ skulls as much as a year later.
Indy100 has contacted Downing Street to comment on this story.