Downing Street parties were routine during Covid-19 restrictions – report

Westminster staffer tells BBC it appeared Johnson gave blessing to ‘wine-time Fridays’

Boris Johnson was under renewed pressure over Downing Street parties on Tuesday after some of those who attended described them as routine and suggested they apparently had the prime minister's blessing. The revelations on BBC Panorama came as senior civil servant Sue Gray is expected to publish her report into the Downing Street parties on Wednesday.

Three people who attended the gatherings told the BBC they would arrive at work to find bins overflowing with empty bottles and one staff member said they felt Mr Johnson had given permission for the parties to take place.

“He was there. He may have just been popping through on the way to his flat because that’s what would happen. You know, he wasn’t there saying this shouldn’t be happening. He wasn’t saying, can everyone break up and go home? Can everyone socially distance? Can everyone put masks on? No, he wasn’t telling anybody that. He was grabbing a glass for himself,” one staffer said.

Another said it was not unusual for the prime minister to be present during “wine-time Fridays” which began at 4pm each week because “he seemed to be a believer in letting his staff let their hair down a little bit”.

ITV News on Monday published photographs of Mr Johnson holding a glass of sparkling wine at a gathering in November 2020 to mark the departure of Lee Cain as director of communications. Coronavirus restrictions in England at the time banned more than two people from meeting but the pictures showed eight others standing close together.

“There were about 30 people, if not more, in a room. Everyone was stood shoulder to shoulder, some people on each other’s laps,” one of the attendees told Panorama about the gathering.

Photographs

London mayor Sadiq Khan on Tuesday asked the Metropolitan Police to explain why at least one person was fined for attending the November 2020 event but Mr Johnson was not. Both the police and Ms Gray are understood to have seen photographs of the event similar to those published by ITV News.

“Sadiq has today written to the acting commissioner of the Met to seek a detailed explanation of the factors which were taken into account by investigating officers when decisions were made about whether to take action in individual cases in the Downing Street Partygate investigation,” a spokesperson for the mayor said.

“He has asked them to take steps to also reassure Londoners by making this explanation to them directly, because he is concerned that the trust and confidence of Londoners in the police is being further eroded by this lack of clarity.”

Downing Street has promised to publish Ms Gray's report as soon as possible and Mr Johnson is expected to make a statement to parliament and to answer reporters' questions at a press conference. The report could reignite speculation about the prime minister's future, and Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee, said he was talking to colleagues about whether Mr Johnson was the right man to lead the party.

“We need to focus on who is going to lead us into the future,” he told Times Radio.