On 20 May 2020, when Boris Johnson’s private secretary arranged a lockdown-busting drinks gathering in the garden at No 10 – according to a leaked email, England was under tough Covid-19 restrictions.
Martin Reynolds, the prime minister’s principal private secretary, sent an email to more than 100 Downing Street employees asking them to “bring your own booze” to an evening event, ITV reported.
But such gatherings were forbidden at the time, even outside.
The prime minister imposed England’s first lockdown to combat Covid in March 2020.
Although the government’s “stay at home” guidance was relaxed on 13 May 2020, strict curbs on socialising remained.
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.
It was not until 1 June that groups of up to six people were allowed to meet outdoors.
But the No 10 gathering nearly two weeks earlier is said to have been attended by 40 people – including the Prime Minister and his wife, Carrie Johnson – after Mr Reynolds urged invitees to “make the most of the lovely weather”.
The balmy temperatures that week raised concerns that people would flock to beaches and defy social distancing, prompting councils with responsibility for beauty spots – such Brighton & Hove, Hastings and Cornwall – to warn the public to stay away.
Our priority is keeping residents safe. Hastings has one of the lowest infection rates in England and we want to keep it that way, so for now our message to visitors is: Hastings is closed! pic.twitter.com/RWTznFvNaj
— Hastings Borough Council (@hastingsbc) May 23, 2020
Police forces in England and Wales issued 14,244 fines for breaches of the coronavirus lockdown laws between 27 March and 11 May, according to figures from the National Police Chiefs’ Council.
Officers were forced to break up gatherings and protests, including a demonstration against the coronavirus lockdown in Hyde Park, west London, on 16 May.
About 50 people breached social distancing rules, and dozens of police officers patrolled the protest, making 19 arrests – including the brother of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – and issuing on-the-spot fines.
Officers dispersed a 100-strong street party in Handsworth, Birmingham on May 22, telling the crowd that such gatherings were in breach of the Government’s orders.
The story sparked a furore and accusations of hypocrisy.
Around the same time, civil liberties groups and lawyers called for a review of more than 14,000 fines for alleged breaches of Covid lockdown rules after police chiefs and prosecutors admitted that dozens of people had been wrongly charged under the laws.
On the day of the No 10 gathering, government figures showed that 35,704 people had died after testing positive for Covid-19 in the UK, up by 363 from the day before.