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The senior Downing Street official who invited more than 100 employees to a “bring your own booze” party in the No 10 garden during Covid restrictions retains the full confidence of the Prime Minister.
Boris Johnson’s official spokesman confirmed Martin Reynolds, the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary, “continues in his role” after ITV news revealed he invited employees to the gathering during England’s first lockdown in May 2020.
Asked whether Mr Johnson still had full confidence in one of his most senior aides, the spokesman said he did.
The leaked email, which came to light on Monday, said: “Hi all, 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.
“Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!”
Mr Johnson will avoid scrutiny over the allegation on Tuesday, as paymaster general Michael Ellis was instead dispatched to face an urgent question in the Commons.
Asked what the Prime Minister was doing rather than responding himself, the PM’s spokesman said: “I don’t have the full diary in front of me at the moment but it’s not uncommon, obviously, for Government ministers to answer these sorts of questions.”
The Prime Minister has refused to say whether he attended the gathering along with his now wife Carrie, although it has been widely reported he was there.
Downing Street officials have also refused to be drawn on details of the allegations because they are being examined by senior official Sue Gray as part of her investigation into claims of lockdown-busting parties in Whitehall and Downing Street.
Mr Ellis told MPs: “It will establish the facts and if wrongdoing is established there will be requisite disciplinary action taken.
“As with all internal investigations, if evidence emerges of what was potentially a criminal offence, the matter would be referred to the Metropolitan Police and the Cabinet Office investigation would be paused.”
People in England were allowed to meet only one person from another household, providing they were at least two metres apart and outside.
People were not permitted to visit the homes of friends and family – unless it was for care and medical reasons, or to take a child to another household with whom parental responsibilities were shared.
Non-essential shops, pubs and restaurants remained closed.
Scotland Yard has said it is in contact with the Cabinet Office about the May 20 2020 allegations.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner, whose urgent question led to Mr Ellis being hauled before MPs, said: “It is incredibly disappointing, but not unsurprising, that the Prime Minister of whom I asked this question is not here today despite not having any official engagements.
“I think his absence speaks volumes as does his smirks on the media, the public have already drawn their own conclusions. He can run but he can’t hide.”
The Tory benches were sparsely populated, offering little support for Mr Ellis, while emotions were running high among those posing questions to the minister.
The DUP’s Jim Shannon broke down as he recalled his mother-in-law “who died alone”, while several MPs raised cases of constituents who suffered losses during the pandemic and were unable to attend funerals due to the restrictions that were in place.
A full copy of our letter is below. pic.twitter.com/aPPJ2TExFV
— Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK (@CovidJusticeUK) January 11, 2022
Veteran Tory Sir Christopher Chope highlighted the “drip, drip feed” of allegations about parties, asking: “Why can’t all the dirty linen be washed at once?”
The Commons exchanges came after Health Minister Edward Argar acknowledged the public felt angry and hurt about the allegations.
England was under tough coronavirus restrictions which banned groups from meeting socially outdoors at the time Mr Reynolds sent the invitation to colleagues.
Mr Argar told the BBC: “I can entirely understand why people who’ve lost loved ones, or people who’ve just had their lives hugely disrupted by these restrictions, are angry and upset by these allegations.”
Hannah Brady, of the campaign group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, whose father’s death certificate was signed on the day of the “socially distanced drinks”, wrote to the Prime Minister calling for him to say whether he attended the event.
She demanded an apology from him for treating questions about it as “one big joke”, adding: “It is a matter of common decency and respect for not only us or the British people, but the office you hold as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, to tell us whether you attended this flagrant breach of the Government’s own rules.”
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Two separate opinion polls suggested the public was turning against Mr Johnson – a Savanta ComRes study found 66% of British adults thought he should quit as Prime Minister, with 24% saying he should stay, while a YouGov survey for Sky News found 56% believed he should go, with 27% saying he should remain.
The row has led to further questions within the Tory ranks over the conduct of the Prime Minister and his inner circle.
Former Scottish Tory leader Baroness Davidson tweeted: “Nobody needs an official to tell them if they were at a boozy shindig in their own garden.
“People are (rightly) furious. They sacrificed so much – visiting sick or grieving relatives, funerals. What tf were any of these people thinking?”
Human rights lawyer Adam Wagner, who interprets coronavirus regulations for the public on Twitter, said the alleged event looked “unlikely to be legal for attendees”.
The Metropolitan Police had tweeted on the day of the alleged “bring your own booze” event, telling people they could have a picnic, exercise or do sport outside providing you are “on your own, with people you live with, or just you and one other person”.
Then-culture secretary Oliver Dowden used a Downing Street press conference that day to remind the public they could “meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor, public place, provided that you stay two metres apart”.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the Downing Street garden was “used fairly regularly, particularly in the summer months, by No 10 Downing Street staff”.