Lockdown parties in No 10 on eve of Prince Philip's funeral

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Image source, Reuters
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Boris Johnson is already facing calls to resign over a drinks gathering he admitted to attending in May 2020

Downing Street staff held two parties the night before Prince Philip's funeral - at a time when Covid restrictions banned indoor mixing.

The events, first reported by The Telegraph, took place on 16 April 2021 and went on until the early hours.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was not at either party - but it raises further questions about a culture of rule-breaking at Downing Street.

The PM is facing calls to resign from the opposition and some senior Tories.

He has urged MPs to wait for the outcome of an investigation into lockdown gatherings in government buildings by senior civil servant Sue Gray, which is expected as early as next week.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she was "very concerned" about the latest revelations, and understood that "people across the country are angry".

She also urged people to wait for Ms Gray's inquiry, but added: "we are very clear that there were real mistakes made".

Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner called on Mr Johnson to address the latest reports, adding: "He can't keep hiding".

"Boris Johnson is yet again insulting the intelligence of the British people rather than just doing the decent thing and coming clean," she added.

"So many people lost loved ones in unimaginably lonely circumstances, the denials and excuses from Downing Street are causing them further hurt."

One of the events on 16 April was a leaving party for the PM's then director of communications, James Slack, before he took up a new role as deputy editor of The Sun newspaper.

He has apologised for the "anger and hurt" caused by the leaving event, and acknowledged it "should not have happened at the time that it did".

But he said he could not comment further as it had been referred to Ms Gray as part of her investigation.

Media caption,
Liz Truss: "People across the country are angry"

The latest revelations come as the prime minister faces anger from his own party over attending a drinks gathering in the Downing Street garden during the first lockdown.

Cabinet ministers have rallied round Mr Johnson, but five of his own MPs have publicly called for him to step down.

According to the Telegraph, Mr Slack's leaving party coincided with another gathering in the No 10 basement for one of the PM's personal photographers.

The events were held at a time when the UK was in a period of national mourning, which ran from 9 April to 17 April, following the Duke of Edinburgh's death.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
The day after the parties took place, the Queen was pictured sitting alone at Prince Philip's funeral due to Covid restrictions

Downing Street staff were reportedly sent to a nearby shop with a suitcase, that was brought back "filled with bottles of wine".

At the basement gathering, sources claimed there was a "party atmosphere", with a laptop placed on a photocopier with "music blaring out".

The two parties are then said to have joined together in the No 10 garden and continued past midnight.

Downing Street party row

At the time, England was under "step two" restrictions that stipulated people could not socialise indoors, except with those from their household or support bubble. People could socialise outdoors in groups of up to six people or two households.

Other restrictions at the time included pubs and restaurants only being allowed to serve customers outside.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said Mr Slack "gave a farewell speech to thank each team for the work they had done to support him, both those who had to be in the office for work and on a screen for those working from home".

But asked about the other party and whether drinking and dancing had taken place, she said No 10 had "nothing further to add".

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey, repeated his call for the prime minister to resign over the growing list of parties, tweeting: "The Queen sitting alone, mourning the loss of her husband, was the defining image of lockdown.

"Not because she is the Queen, but because she was just another person, mourning alone like too many others. Whilst she mourned, No 10 partied."

Further calls to quit

Boris Johnson has faced particular criticism after it emerged he had attended a party in Downing Street on 20 May 2020 during the first lockdown.

The prime minister apologised on Wednesday in the House of Commons, saying he had joined staff for 25 minutes to thank them for their hard work. But he said he had "believed implicitly that this was a work event".

On Thursday, backbencher Andrew Bridgen became the fifth Conservative MP to publicly say they had submitted a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson, saying the stream of revelations about parties was "preventing the government from functioning as normal and that's an untenable position".

A minimum of 54 Conservative MPs must send letters to the 1922 committee of backbench MPs in order to trigger a leadership challenge.

The PM is also facing pressure from grassroots Conservatives, with the Tory association in Sutton Coldfield voting unanimously on Thursday to urge him to resign.

Timeline: The alleged government gatherings

The government is facing mounting pressure over several events that are alleged to have been held during lockdowns. Here is what we know about them and the restrictions in place at the time:

Boris Johnson announced a plan to take the “first careful steps" out of the lockdown that began in March 2020. But he said people should continue to "obey the rules on social distancing and to enforce those rules we will increase the fines for the small minority who break them”.

Legal restrictions at the time said you could not leave your house without a reasonable excuse and government guidance was that you could meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor setting while exercising.

A photo from May 2020 showed the prime minister and his staff with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard in the Downing Street garden. When asked about it, Boris Johnson said, “those people were at work talking about work”.

About 100 people were invited by email to “socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden” on behalf of the prime minister’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds.

Witnesses told the BBC the PM and his wife were among about 30 people who attended.

Boris Johnson has confirmed he attended the event, saying he was there for 25 minutes and “believed implicitly that this was a work event”.

On Boris Johnson’s birthday, up to 30 people gathered in the Cabinet Room at No 10 to present the prime minister with a birthday cake and sing Happy Birthday, according to a report by ITV News.

No 10 said staff had “gathered briefly" to "wish the prime minister a happy birthday", adding that he had been there "for less than 10 minutes”.

Rules at the time banned most indoor gatherings involving more than two people.

Boris Johnson announced plans for a “significant return to normality" in England by Christmas "through targeted, local action” instead of national lockdowns.

But he added that the timetable relied on “every one of us staying alert and acting responsibly”.

With cases of coronavirus rising again, the prime minister told people in England that “we are once again asking you to stay at home” as a new national lockdown began.

He said people should only leave their homes “for work if you can’t work from home, for education, and for essential activities and emergencies”. Indoor gatherings with other households were banned, unless they were for work purposes.

Sources told the BBC that Downing Street staff members attended a gathering with Carrie Johnson in the flat where she and the prime minister live. A spokesman for Mrs Johnson denies the party took place.

A leaving event was held for No 10 aide, Cleo Watson, where people were drinking, and Mr Johnson made a speech, according to sources.

The second national lockdown ended after four weeks but Boris Johnson replaced those restrictions with “tough tiers to keep this virus down”.

London was placed in tier two, which banned two or more people from different households from meeting indoors, unless “reasonably necessary” for work purposes.

The Department for Education has confirmed it had an office gathering to thank staff for their work during the pandemic. It says drinks and snacks were brought by those who attended and no outside guests or support staff were invited.

The Conservative Party has admitted that an “unauthorised gathering” took place at its HQ in Westminster. It was held by the team of the party's London-mayoral candidate, Shaun Bailey, who has since stepped down as chair of the London Assembly police and crime committee. The Metropolitan Police is to speak to two people who attended the party.

The gathering at the Conservative Party headquarters was described as ‘raucous’
Image caption The gathering at the Conservative Party headquarters was described as ‘raucous’ Image copyright by Daily Mirror

Multiple sources have told the BBC there was a Christmas quiz for No 10 staff last year. A photo - published by the Sunday Mirror - showed Boris Johnson taking part and sitting between two colleagues in No 10. Mr Johnson has denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Johnson was pictured in the No 10 library under a portrait of Margaret Thatcher
Image caption Mr Johnson was pictured in the No 10 library under a portrait of Margaret Thatcher Image copyright by Sunday Mirror

London moved into the highest tier of restrictions and Matt Hancock, who was health secretary at the time, said it was important “everyone is cautious” ahead of the festive period.

The Department for Transport apologised after confirming reports of a party in its offices that day, calling it “inappropriate" and an "error of judgment” by staff.

A leaving party was held at the Cabinet Office for the outgoing head of the civil service Covid taskforce - the team responsible for drawing up coronavirus restrictions.

Kate Josephs, now chief executive of Sheffield City Council, apologised for the event, saying she was “truly sorry that I did this and for the anger that people will feel as a result”.

Downing Street originally denied a report by the Daily Mirror that a party took place in Downing Street.

However, a video obtained by ITV News showed the prime minister's then-press secretary Allegra Stratton, joking about reports of an event, saying: “This fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced.”

Lockdown restrictions were eased in England, with pubs and restaurants allowed to reopen with outdoor service only.

However, working from home continued to be recommended and socialising indoors with people from other households was not allowed. Meeting others outdoors was limited to groups of six people or two households.

Two parties were held by Downing Street staff at No 10, the night before Prince Philip's funeral.

One of the events was a leaving party for the PM's then director of communications James Slack, who has apologised for the event and acknowledged it “should not have happened at the time that it did”.

Boris Johnson was not at either party.

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