Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under enormous pressure following revelations about rule-breaking parties in and around Downing Street during the COVID lockdown.
When the rest of England – and the rest of the UK – imposed strict restrictions on who and where you could socialize, Downing Street staff were accused of violating those rules by holding a series of parties behind closed doors.
So when did these parties happen – and what rules were in place at the time?
May 15, 2020: Downing Street ‘Cheese and Wine’ Party
Mr Johnson, wife Carrie and several associates are photographed drinking wine in a Downing Street garden with a wine and cheeseboard.
The PM’s spokesperson said that the gathering was only a work meeting after a COVID press conference that day, and the participants were following the relevant COVID protocols, whether they were drinking or not.
However, the spokesperson admitted that it was not clear from the leaked image whether those present were following social distancing norms and keeping a distance of two metres.
Rule: In May 2020, the UK was in its first national lockdown for almost two months. People could only meet any other person outside their own house, following the social distancing of two meters. Anyone who violates these rules runs the risk of a hefty fine.
May 20, 2020: ‘Socially distanced drinks’
On May 20, as revealed in a later leaked email, nearly 100 people were invited to a “socially-distancing drink at the No. 10 Garden.”
About 30 people are believed to have attended the gathering, including Mr Johnson and Carey.
The prime minister initially declined to comment on whether he was present, but later had to admit to the House of Commons that he was.
Rule: Again, at this point the UK was just under two months into the first national lockdown. This meant that people were not allowed to mingle in each other’s homes and gardens.
November 13, 2020: No 10 Flat Party
Mr Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings has claimed the PM and Kerry had a party at his Downing Street flat.
According to Mr Cummings, the party was organized after the departure of senior aide Lee Cain, who was previously No. 10’s director of communications. Loud music was reportedly heard from the flat, although the prime minister’s spokesman dismissed the claims as “complete nonsense”.
At the time, there was a ban on indoor mingling between people from different households, the only exception being for purposes such as childcare.
Rule: The second national lockdown came into force in England from 5 November. Indoor household mixing was restricted, except for single-adult families that formed a support bubble with a second family.
November 25, 2020: Treasury spending review party
Treasury workers who were working on Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s autumn spending review reportedly had a “sudden drink” in his office after working hours – while the second lockdown in England was still underway.
According to The Times, around 24 civil servants participated. However, Mr Sunak himself was not among those present and was apparently unaware that this had happened.
Rule: The second national lockdown was in effect for less than three weeks at this point. Ordinary families were still limited to mingling indoors with people from their support bubble.
November 27, 2020: Downing Street is leaving the party
Another drop-off party was reportedly organized in Downing Street – this time for Cleo Watson, a senior aide and supposedly a protégé of Dominic Cummings.
Cummings himself has insisted that the party did not take place, although others claim that Boris Johnson was present and gave a short speech describing how full the room was.
Rule: The second national lockdown is still in place, with strict restrictions in place in England at the time – including a ban on indoor mixing, except for people in support bubbles.
December 10, 2020: Gavin Williamson Staff Party
Employees of the Department of Education are said to have attended a Christmas party with “drinks and canapés” at the department’s Westminster Cafe, according to The Mirror.
The then Education Secretary Gavin Williamson reportedly gave a speech. The Department of Education acknowledged that it “would have been better” if the gathering had not taken place.
Rule: On 2 December, the tier system was reintroduced in England. London was then subject to Tier 2 restrictions, with indoor social mixing between people from different households being banned.
December 14, 2020: Tory Headquarters Party
An event was held at the Conservative campaign headquarters in Westminster. Among those in attendance was London mayoral candidate Sean Bailey.
Also there was Nick Candy, billionaire property developer and Conservative Party donor. The event was organized by Bailey’s team, and according to The Times, about 25 people attended.
Rule: At this point, London was still subject to Tier 2 restrictions. Most parts of the country were in Tier 2 or 3. In Tier 2, outdoor meetings were limited to a maximum of six people, with indoor meetings restricted to support bubbles.
December 15, 2020: Downing Street Christmas Quiz
A Christmas quiz allegedly conducted by Boris Johnson himself is said to have taken place in Downing Street.
The Sunday Mirror reproduced a screenshot of Johnson acting as quizmaster. However, Downing Street responded that the quiz took place via Zoom and that Johnson only “briefly” participated.
Rule: The tier system remained in place on 15 December, with London still in Tier 2. It will move to Tier 3 the next day, December 16.
December 16, 2020: Department for Transport Party
According to The Mirror, the Transport Department held a Christmas party with top civil servants on the same day London was moved to Tier 3.
The Transportation Department acknowledged the party was “unfair” and a spokesman for Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps said he was “absolutely not aware” of it.
Rule: Subject to Tier 3 restrictions in London, residents were still prohibited from meeting indoors with people outside their home or support bubble. They were also required to maintain social distancing outside their home or with people in the support bubble.
December 17, 2020: Cabinet Office Party
The Times reported that more than 20 employees took part in the Cabinet Office Christmas Quiz.
However, the Cabinet Office said the quiz was conducted remotely and that some employees simply participated from their desks.
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case was among those attending. He later resigned from the investigation of rule-breaking parties after the details of this party came to light.
Rule: London only went into Tier 3, and city residents were forbidden from mixing indoors with anyone beyond their home or support bubble.
December 18, 2020: Downing Street Christmas Party
40 to 50 people are said to have attended a Downing Street Christmas party, when guests were asked to bring ‘Secret Santa’ gifts with them.
London has recently been placed in Tier 3, cheese and wine were on hand and various speeches were given, say sources.
Boris Johnson’s then-press secretary Allegra Stratton was forced to resign as the government’s COP26 spokesperson after a video surfaced of her mocking the gathering during a mock press conference.
Rule: London was in Tier 3 for only a few days on 18 December. So indoor mixing between individual houses was still restricted except for the support bubble.
April 16, 2021: Two parties in Downing Street
The Telegraph reports that two parties took place in Downing Street on April 16 last year – the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral.
At the funeral, the Queen was pictured sitting alone due to the COVID restrictions – which sparked public sympathy.
It now appears that two separate parties were held on Downing Street the night before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral service, with an employee sent to a local supermarket to fetch wine.
Rule: In April 2021, England were again being lifted out of lockdown, but home mixes were still banned except for the support bubble. While there were exemptions for work purposes, “social gatherings” at work were not covered. People were allowed to meet in private gardens, but there were only a maximum of six of them.
May 2021: Keir starrer indoor gathering
Shortly before the Hartlepool by-election last May, Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer was seen drinking with party workers at a constituency office in Durham.
A senior Tory source told the Daily Telegraph that Starmer was an “absolute hypocrite” who carried out attacks on Downing Street alleged rule-breaking parties.
But Labor insisted that Starmer was “at work, meeting a local lawmaker in his constituency office and participating in an online Labor Party event”, and that the attendees were “at dinner”. stayed for as the meeting was in the evening”.
Rule: In May 2021, indoor home mixing was still banned in England, with outdoor meetings subject to the rule of six and hospitality venues only being able to serve customers via table service.