Fury over claim that No 10 wine party was ‘necessary meeting’

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Fury over claim that No 10 wine party was ‘necessary meeting’
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Cabinet minister Dominic Raab came under fire on Monday for arguing that a picture of Boris Johnson in the Downing Street garden with aides enjoying wine and cheese during lockdown last year showed a “necessary meeting”.

The Justice Secretary faced questions about the photo during a media round this morning as the “parties” storm continued to rage around No 10.

The photo, obtained by the Guardian, showed Mr Johnson, his then-fiancée Carrie, and 17 other staff members in the garden, apparently on May 15, 2020, with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard on a table in front of the Prime Minister.

Grilled by ITV’S Good Morning Britain presenter Charlotte Hawkins on whether lockdown rules were broken, on the basis that it was not a necessary face-to-face meeting — with only absolutely necessary participants and two-metre separation maintained throughout — Mr Raab responded: “They were necessary meetings.”

The Deputy Prime Minister added: “You are talking about the cockpit of the emergency crisis response. They had work meetings throughout the day and on occasion had a drink during that period once the main meetings were over.”

But he failed to give an example of another group of workers, such as doctors and nurses, or delivery drivers, who could have done that while sticking within the rules.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “Necessary work meetings seem to look very different in Downing Street than they did on the frontline of the NHS, in social care, or for any of our heroic key workers.”

Lib-Dem business spokesperson Sarah Olney said: “It is mind-boggling for Raab to claim this was a necessary meeting.”

However, the Cabinet minister told Times Radio: “Downing Street used that garden as a place of work. They used it for work meetings. The photo is from a day when, I think, the Prime Minister had just done a press conference.

“And sometimes they’ll have a drink after a long day or a long week. And that’s not against the regulations.”

On Carrie Johnson having been there, Mr Raab added: “It is not just a place of work for all the staff that work in No 10 and the Prime Minister, but it is also the residence of the Prime Minister and his very young family. I genuinely don’t think it gets classified as a party because Carrie popped down and spent a little bit of time there with her husband.”

The then health secretary Matt Hancock had told people in England that day that they could only meet one person outside of their household outdoors and had to maintain two-metre distancing.

No10 has insisted work meetings often took place in the garden.

Human rights barrister Adam Wagner, who examines coronavirus regulations, said he was “doubtful it was against the law”, but that it may have been against guidance.

Families who made huge sacrifices in the lockdown, such as not attending funerals, have condemned the photo.

Other gatherings reported in Whitehall during Covid restrictions include a “Christmas party” in No 10 on December 18. Senior civil servant Sue Gray is investigating the reports.

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case was removed from the inquiry after it was alleged he knew about a festive quiz in his department.

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