Key figures in Boris Johnson’s Partygate evidence to MPs
Boris Johnson has been giving evidence in his own defence over the Partygate affair before the Commons privileges committee. Here are some of the key people mentioned in the evidence
Case became cabinet secretary – the most senior civil servant in the country – two months after lockdown began in 2020. Colleagues describe him as relatively inexperienced, but someone who was extremely good at staying close to those in power.
As the chief civil service in Downing Street at the time of the gatherings, it could have fallen to Case to advise others in the building whether the events adhered to both the law and Covid guidance at the time.
Sarah Dines, Johnson’s parliamentary private secretary, told the committee she was “90% sure” Case had given assurances that rules were being followed at all times. But asked directly by the committee whether that was true, Case replied with one word: “No”.
As the Partygate scandal unfolded, Reynolds, Johnson’s principal private secretary, earned the nickname “party Marty” for various messages he sent about the parties at the time.
In February 2022, ITV News revealed Reynolds had invited dozens of Downing Street staff to “socially distanced drinks” in the No 10 garden in May 2020, adding: “Bring your own booze!” Later, he sent a WhatsApp message to an unknown special adviser that read: “Best of luck – a complete non-story but better than them focusing on our drinks (which we seem to have got away with).”
Reynolds quit Downing Street in February 2022, and was tipped as the next ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
A former journalist at the Mirror, Cain was Johnson’s head of communications and a close ally of Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s chief of staff. Messages from the time and his testimony since show Cain expressing doubt about whether the Downing Street events really did conform to the Covid rules.
In June 2020, Cain warned Reynolds against holding a leaving event for another member of staff, messaging him to say: “I don’t see how we can have some kind of party though … I think it’s your decision my friend, not mind [sic]! But it obviously comes with rather substantial comms risks.”
Cain told the committee he had also warned Reynolds that his invitation to the May garden party was “clearly social and in breach of Covid guidance”. He added: “It was clear observing all who attended and the layout of the event that this was purely a social function.”
Cain left Downing Street at the end of 2020 and started his own public relations firm.
Boris Johnson poached Doyle from the Daily Mail to become his press secretary shortly before Covid broke out in early 2020, and a year later made him director of communications.
The former prime minister told the committee Doyle had assured him that multiple events were within the rules, including an event attended by members of the Downing Street media team in December 2020.
Doyle, however, has said he did not assure Johnson that Covid guidance had been followed at all times in No 10, adding that he did not advise him to say this. In fact, Doyle told the internal inquiry at the time: “To say [the rules] were followed completely, these are difficult things to say.”
Doyle was in charge of the Downing Street response when the Mirror first contacted No 10 with allegations about a party in the prime minister’s flat, known as the “Abba party”. He told another official at the time: “I don’t know what we say about the flat … Ignore the Xmas quiz bullshit, who cares. Just be robust and they’ll get bored.”
Doyle left Downing Street last February, and now works in public relations.
Carrie Symonds, as she was then, worked on Johnson’s campaign to be re-elected as London mayor in 2012, before later becoming head of communications for the Conservative party. Years later, she and the former prime minister began a relationship, and she moved into the Downing Street flat in July 2019. They became engaged later that year.
Carrie Johnson had a tense relationship with Cummings, the prime minister’s chief of staff, and attended the “Abba party” at which the song The Winner Takes It All could be heard blaring from the stereo.
Gray did not investigate this party as it was the subject of a Metropolitan police inquiry at the time. It has been reported that the Met did not fine anyone for that event, though the police force has not confirmed that.
One of the defining images of the Partygate scandal was the footage of Allegra Stratton, a former Guardian journalist, joking with colleagues during a mock press conference about lockdown-breaking events held at Downing Street. “This fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced,” she said through laughter.
A day later, Stratton resigned, becoming the first, and for a long time, the only member of Downing Street staff to resign over the gatherings. During a tearful resignation speech in December 2021, she said: “My remarks seemed to make light of the rules, rules that people were doing everything to obey. That was never my intention.”
Stratton was hired from ITV by Rishi Sunak when he was chancellor in October 2020, before being given a job as No 10 press secretary six months later. That job was meant to involve giving televised briefings, and her Partygate comments came during a rehearsal for those. The briefings never happened.
Stratton has returned to journalism with Bloomberg. Her husband, James Forsyth, is Sunak’s political secretary.