Police probe Tory lockdown party as Johnson faces claims over No 10 gathering

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  • Boris Johnson
    Boris Johnson
    Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since 2019
Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces more questions over alleged Covid parties (Frank Augstein/PA) (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces more questions over alleged Covid parties (Frank Augstein/PA) (PA Wire)

Boris Johnson reportedly attended a party with staff in the Downing Street garden during the first national lockdown in May last year.

The Guardian and The Independent reported that Boris Johnson was present for 15 minutes at the gathering following a Covid press conference on May 15 2020.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Police said it will make contact with two people who attended a gathering organised by Shaun Bailey’s London mayoral campaign at the Conservative Party HQ in London on December 14 2020 in relation to alleged breaches of coronavirus regulations.

Mr Bailey has apologised “unreservedly” for the event and quit his role chairing the London Assembly’s police and crime committee after pictures of the event were published in the Daily Mirror.

Shaun Bailey was the Tory candidate for London mayor (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) (PA Archive)
Shaun Bailey was the Tory candidate for London mayor (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) (PA Archive)

In response to the latest claims about the Prime Minister Downing Street said Mr Johnson “briefly” met then health secretary Matt Hancock and his team in the garden, which was “regularly” used for work meetings during the summer months.

According to the Guardian and Independent’s sources, around 20 staff drank wine and spirits and ate pizza following the press conference at which Mr Hancock had told the British public to stay at home “as much as is possible” and stressed the rules in force meant “you can meet one other person from outside your household in an outdoor, public place” as long as you kept two metres apart.

The Prime Minister is alleged to have told one aide that they deserved a drink for “beating back” coronavirus.

Some aides reportedly carried on drinking into the evening, although there was no suggestion Mr Johnson or Mr Hancock had any alcohol or stayed late.

A No 10 spokesman said: “In the summer months Downing Street staff regularly use the garden for some meetings.

“On May 15 2020 the Prime Minister held a series of meetings throughout the afternoon, including briefly with the then health and care secretary and his team in the garden following a press conference.

“The Prime Minister went to his residence shortly after 7pm.

“A small number of staff required to be in work remained in the Downing Street garden for part of the afternoon and evening.”

Hannah Brady, a spokesperson for Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice whose father died from the virus the day after the alleged event, said the reports made her sick.

She said that she met the PM some months later, when she showed him a photo of her father in hospital, taken on the day of the reported gathering.

“The Prime Minister looked me in the eye and told me he’d ‘done everything he could’ to protect my Dad. It’s disgusting,” she said.

Labour’s Fleur Anderson, the shadow paymaster general, said: “It seems that from the very beginning of this awful pandemic the Prime Minister was setting a culture of disregarding the laws he was applying to the rest of us.

“People have made immense sacrifice during this crisis. It is starting to look like the Prime Minister has only dithered, partied and eroded public trust.

“As is always the case with Boris Johnson, it’s one rule for him, and one rule for the rest of us.”

Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said: “There needs to be an official and independent inquest into how many times Downing Street officials, and the Prime Minister himself, may have broken lockdown rules.

“The public will not stomach a political stitch-up. Those who think they are above the law must be held to account.”

The claims about May 15 are the latest in a series of allegations about events in Westminster while restrictions on social contact were in force.

We recognise this was inappropriate and apologise for the error of judgment

Department for Transport spokesman

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case is investigating gatherings alleged to have taken place in Downing Street and the Department for Education in November and December.

Scotland Yard said it would not commence an investigation into those allegations unless fresh evidence comes to light – with Mr Case expected to hand over any material relating to behaviour which is potentially criminal.

But in relation to the Bailey campaign event, the Met said it was “aware of a gathering at an address in Matthew Parker Street” – the location of Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ).

“Officers will be making contact with two people who attended in relation to alleged breaches of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations,” the force said in a statement.

In a further development, the Department for Transport (DfT) apologised after the Daily Mirror reported that senior civil servants were “boozing and dancing” at a party in its HQ on December 16 2020 – the day London went into Tier 3 lockdown.

The DfT insisted it was a “low-key” gathering where social distancing was observed, and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was not involved.

But a spokesman said: “Fewer than a dozen staff who were working in the office had a low-key, socially distanced, gathering in the large open-plan office after work on December 16, where food and drink was consumed.

“We recognise this was inappropriate and apologise for the error of judgment.”

The matter has been referred to the Cabinet Secretary, a source close to Mr Shapps said.

The source said Mr Shapps is “deeply unhappy about this behaviour, which he knew nothing about and in no way condones” and the conduct of the staff involved “fell below the standard he would naturally expect of his private office”.

“Grant understands the anger such episodes inspire in people separated from loved ones during lockdown. He knows because he himself was unable to visit his seriously ill father in hospital last Christmas due to Covid.

“On the day of this unauthorised gathering he was in his constituency, concentrating on the welfare of his father and mother.”

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