What rules were the public being told to follow when No 10 aide organised lockdown gathering?

·3-min read
The prime minister imposed England’s first lockdown to combat Covid in March 2020 (PA Archive)
The prime minister imposed England’s first lockdown to combat Covid in March 2020 (PA Archive)

On 20 May 2020, the day 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 the coronavirus 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 30-40 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.

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 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 Piers Corbyn, 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.

That same day, news emerged the prime minister’s then-aide Dominic Cummings had made a 260-mile trip to Durham with his wife and child, breaching lockdown rules at the height of the Covid outbreak.

Boris and Carrie Johnson (Jacob King/PA)
Boris and Carrie Johnson (Jacob King/PA)

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 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 in the UK, up by 363 from the day before.

As for the 16 April 2021, the day on which two more Downing Street bashes reportedly took place, according to The Daily Telegraph, England was then under step 2 coronavirus restrictions, which banned indoor mixing and caused Her Majesty the Queen, 95, to mourn her late husband of 73 years Prince Philip while sat alone.

Only 30 people were allowed to attend the event at all, in accordance with the rules, which also urged people to work from home “if you can” and kept socialising to a minimum.

“You must not socialise indoors except with your household or support bubble,” the guidelines stated at the time.

“You can meet outdoors, including in gardens, in groups of six people or two households.”

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