Boris Johnson’s former top adviser Dominic Cummings has alleged there was a lockdown-breaking party in the Downing Street garden in May 2020 after an emailed invitation to “socially distanced drinks”.
Cummings, who left No 10 in November that year, said people were invited to the gathering by a senior Downing Street official who he said should have been removed from their job because of failings over Covid.
In a lengthy blogpost, he claimed he had warned at the time that it “seemed to be against the rules and should not happen”. He said this was in writing and could be uncovered by an inquiry into lockdown-busting parties currently being conducted by the Cabinet Office official Sue Gray.
Cummings went on to allege there were other gatherings in 2021, after he left Downing Street, and that Johnson was aware of them.
The former aide outed himself as one of the people seen in a photograph published by the Guardian last month showing the prime minister and his wife, Carrie, sitting around a table with wine and cheese with two No 10 staff members on Friday 15 May 2020, five days before the new gathering alleged by Cummings.
A total of 19 people were gathered in the garden, according to the 15 May photo, and sources told the Guardian there was a celebratory atmosphere that evening after a press conference. One source described it as a “wine and pizza party” that went on late into the evening.
As part of a joint investigation with the Independent, a source said the prime minister had told one of those present – drinking inside Downing Street on the same evening – that they deserved their drink for “beating back” the virus.
However, Cummings claimed in his latest blog that they were chatting after having meetings, that it was not a “party” or “organised drinks” that was shown in the photograph, and that he left shortly after it was taken, at about 7.15pm.
After the meeting, he said, “the PM and I continued talking as it broke up. Someone brought a bottle of wine out to the table. It may have been Martin [Reynolds, the prime minister’s principal private secretary] but I think it was the PM himself who went inside as I was packing stuff up and brought out wine. We carried on chatting about Covid, about domestic priorities, and about how to sort out the Cabinet Office which had totally collapsed. Shortly after Carrie joined us.”
He argued that the prime minister’s then fiancee was allowed under the rules to be in the garden in her own home.
At the time, social mixing between households was limited to two people who could only meet outdoors and at a distance of at least 2 metres. Schools were still shut and pubs and restaurants were closed, with strict controls on social mixing. More people had been allowed to return to their workplaces but guidance said social distancing of 2 metres should be followed at all times and “only absolutely necessary participants should attend meetings and should maintain 2-metre separation throughout”.
Angela Rayner, the Labour deputy leader, has described the picture as “a slap in the face of the British public”, adding: “The prime minister consistently shows us he has no regard for the rules he puts in place for the rest of us. Alleged drinking and partying late into the evening [at No 10] when the rest of us were only recently getting one daily walk.”
The prime minister has faced a string of allegations of partying and socialising in No 10 while Covid restrictions were in place. He was forced to order a civil service inquiry, though its head, Simon Case, had to step down over allegations of his own Christmas party.
No 10 has been approached for comment.