Partygate: The texts and emails that show No 10 knew they were flouting lockdown rules

·Data and Politics News Editor, Yahoo News UK
·4-min read
(Cabinet Office)
Sue Gray's report included shocking details of rampant rule breaking in Downing Street during lockdown. (Cabinet Office)

A top Downing Street official told a colleague that he and his staff had "got away with it" after throwing a "bring your own booze" (BYOB) party at the height of lockdown, the Partygate report has revealed.

The 37-page document, produced by senior civil servant Sue Gray, was published on Wednesday morning, laying bare the details of booze-fuelled gatherings in No 10 and Whitehall.

At one event, a staff member threw up after drinking "excessive amounts" of alcohol, and two others were involved in a "minor altercation".

Gray laid the blame for the culture of rule-breaking at the feet of "senior leadership" in Boris Johnson's government and team.

“The events that I investigated were attended by leaders in government. Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen,” she said.

Read more: Here are the nine Partygate photos released in the Sue Gray report

(Cabinet Office)
Boris Johnson was fined for attending a gathering for his own birthday (Cabinet Office)

Gray's report included emails and WhatsApp messages sent by Johnson's most senior staff member explicitly referring to the fact that rules were knowingly being broken.

A number of the messages involve Martin Reynolds, who was the prime ministers' principal private secretary.

These are the messages that show Downing Street staff knew they were breaking lockdown rules:

20 May 2020: A gathering in the garden of No 10 Downing Street for staff

Email sent to by No 10 official on behalf of Martin Reynolds:

To: [26 No 10 Staff]

Subject: Socially distanced drinks

When: 20 May 2020 17:30-19:30

Where: No10 Garden

We are having some socially distanced drinks in the garden later and wanted to invite whoever is in your office. They start at 6 - would you be able to pass on the message to those in today please? Strictly your office though so we don't end up with lots of people!

The same No 10 special adviser, who has not been named, sent a message to Martin Reynolds by WhatsApp at 14.08 saying:

Drinks this eve is a lovely idea so I've shared with the E & V team who are in the office.

Just to flag that the press conference will probably be finishing around that time, so helpful if people can be mindful of that as speakers and cameras are leaving, not walking around waving bottles of wine etc.

Martin Reynolds replied:

Will do my best.

Martin Reynolds later sent a WhatsApp message on an unknown date to a special adviser in which he referenced the party. It read:

Best of luck, a complete non story but better than them focusing on our drinks (which we seem to have got away with).

Lee Cain, the then No 10 director of communications, received the invitation and sent a response to Reynolds as well as Dominic Cummings, who was Johnson's senior adviser at the time, reading:

I'm sure it will be fine - and I applaud the gesture - but a 200 odd person invitation for drinks in the garden of no 10 is somewhat of a comms risk in the current environment.

According to Gray, another No 10 director declined the invitation and raised concerns over the event, telling Reynolds it was not a good idea.

The party did go ahead, with attendees invited to "bring your own booze".

Around 30 to 40 people gathered in the garden, and Johnson was present for around 30 minutes.

Watch: Sir Keir Starmer calls on Tory MPs to 'pack' PM's bags

Staff had “drinks and pizza” and people left between 10pm and 11pm.

At the time of the story, the UK was in full lockdown, with restrictions on people leaving their homes without a reasonable excuse.

18 June 2020: A gathering in the Cabinet Office for the departure of a No 10 official

On 12 June, Reynolds and Lee Cain, Boris Johnson's then director of communications, exchanged messages discussing the possibility of throwing a party – and raising concerns over the "comms risk" of doing so.

Martin Reynolds:

No 10 official's leaving drinks next week - can we discuss handling!

Lee Cain:

Yes - not sure how we do it but want to do something

Martin Reynolds:

Is it safer to do a larger event indoors but with some people carrying on outside afterwards?

Lee Cain:

I'm not sure it works at all to be honest, which would be a shame. I don't see how we can have some kind of party though?

Martin Reynolds:

So you are saying nothing for [No 10 official (1)]?

Lee Cain:

I think it's your decision my friend, not mind [sic]! But it obviously comes with rather substantial comms risks.

The event went ahead despite the concerns raised and lasted for a number of hours.

According to Gray's report, there was "excessive alcohol consumption" and one staff member threw up. Two more were involved in a "minor altercation".

Prime Minister Boris Johnson listens as Labour leader Keir Starmer responds to his statement to the House of Commons, London, following the publication of Sue Gray's report into Downing Street parties in Whitehall during the coronavirus lockdown.
Boris Johnson listens as Labour leader Keir Starmer responds to his statement following the publication of Sue Gray's report into Downing Street parties during the coronavirus lockdown. (PA Images)

After the report was published, Johnson told MPs he took “full responsibility” for what happened in No 10, and was "humbled" by the contents of the report.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told the Commons that report “laid bare the rot” in No 10 and called on Tory MPs to tell their leader it is “time to pack his bags”.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner described the contents of the report as “indefensible”, calling Johnson’s Downing Street “rotten from the very top”.

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