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Downing Street gatherings: What were the Covid rules at the time? Downing Street parties: What Covid rules were broken?
(25 days later)
A newly released photo from May 2020 has prompted fresh questions about whether government staff broke Covid rules during periods of lockdown. Two staff parties were held at Downing Street the night before the Duke of Edinburgh's funeral in April 2021, it has emerged.
The image, which shows the prime minister and his staff with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard in the Downing Street garden, was published by the Guardian. The gatherings, which took place during Covid restrictions, are the latest of a number of parties involving people linked to the government to be revealed. An investigation by senior civil servant Sue Gray is under way.
What were the Covid rules at the time? What are the latest revelations?
On 15 May 2020, England was in lockdown and by law, people were only allowed to be away from their home if they had a "reasonable excuse". Two leaving parties at 10 Downing Street took place on 16 April 2021 and went on until the early hours.
One of the listed excuses was for work, "where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work... from the place where they are living". One was for the prime minister's outgoing director of communications, James Slack.
When asked about the May photo, Boris Johnson said, "those people were at work talking about work". He has apologised for the "anger and hurt" caused by the event.
EXCLUSIVE: Boris Johnson and staff pictured with wine in Downing Street garden in May 2020 https://t.co/HDyvi70Nqd Another event - elsewhere in the building - was for one of the prime minister's photographers, the Daily Telegraph reported.
But Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told BBC Breakfast that the people pictured were having a drink, "after the work meetings of the day". Later in the evening, the two events merged and continued in the Downing Street garden until after midnight.
If they weren't working, then the work excuse wouldn't count, except for the prime minister and his partner, who could argue that the garden was part of their home. Boris Johnson did not attend and was at his official country residence, Chequers, at the time.
The law at the time did not mention socialising with colleagues. What were the Covid rules on 16 April 2021?
There was also government advice that you should stay at least two metres away from anyone who wasn't part of your household, but that was not a legal requirement. Throughout the pandemic there has been a mixture of legal restrictions and guidance about how people should behave.
How did the row over parties start? Legal restrictions are underpinned by sanctions such as fines, or prosecution.
Downing Street originally denied a report by the the Daily Mirror that a party took place in Downing Street on 18 December 2020, and a number of ministers appeared on television and radio to repeat the denials. Guidance is strong advice set out the by the government. But unless it's also backed up in law, there are no fines or prosecution for breaking guidelines.
However, a video obtained by ITV News showed the prime minister's then-press secretary Allegra Stratton, joking about reports of a party, saying: "This fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced." On 16 April 2021, legal restrictions banned gatherings indoors between different households (unless in a support bubble).
There was an exemption for "work purposes" but this did not mention socialising at work. The law only allowed up to six people to meet in private gardens.
The guidance said: "You can gather in larger groups or meet indoors where it is necessary for your work. This does not include social gatherings with work colleagues."
What was the drinks party attended by the PM?
These latest revelations come days after the prime minister apologised for attending a drinks party in the Downing Street garden, during the first lockdown in the spring of 2020.
Details of the event - to which up to 100 people had been invited to "bring your own booze" - were revealed by ITV News earlier this week..
Mr Johnson and his girlfriend (now wife) Carrie were among 30 people understood to have attended the event on 20 May that year.
The list of alleged government lockdown gatherings
What were the Covid rules on 20 May 2020?
Legal restrictions said that people could not leave their homes - or be outside the place they live - without a reasonable excuse, which included work (where you couldn't work from home), exercise and getting things like food and medicine.
For people who broke these rules, the police in England could fine them £100 for the first offence which could then double for each further offence up to a maximum of £3,200.
It would be difficult to see how the Downing Street event would have been in line with these rules, argues barrister Adam Wagner.
"If you were doing something which wasn't necessary for work then you weren't outside of your house [with] a reasonable excuse and you were potentially committing a criminal offence."
However, Mr Wagner added that as the prime minister and his wife live in Downing Street they would not have technically left their home to attend the party.
Mr Wagner is involved in a case to bring a judicial review against the Met Police for not investigating the alleged parties.
The law also banned gatherings in a public place of more than two people, unless they were all members of the same household or the gathering was "essential for work purposes". However, lawyers have noted that Downing Street is not a public place.
In terms of guidance:
On the day of the party the government's own Twitter account summarised the guidance by saying that gatherings must be limited to two people outside.
But as with the law, the detailed guidance always allowed for people to work where that had to involve gathering with other people.
Mr Johnson told MPs that as a "work event", the gathering was technically within the guidance.
But by 20 May 2020 there was detailed guidance on what to do in offices and other similar settings. When it came to workplace gatherings, it said: "Workers should try to minimise all meetings and other gatherings in the workplace."
The "working safely during coronavirus" guidelines also said only "absolutely necessary participants should attend meetings and should maintain 2m separation throughout". Generally, workers were told to "reduce the number of people you spend time with in a work setting".
There is nothing in the guidelines that would suggest that drinking, socialising or other types of work event along these lines would have been allowed.
What about the rules around other alleged parties?
A number of other gatherings are alleged to have taken place in Downing Street during 2020.
One was alleged to have taken place on 27 November - a leaving party for Cleo Watson, a former aide to Dominic Cummings.
At this point a national lockdown was in force and indoor gatherings with other households were not allowed (unless for work).
This lockdown ended on 2 December and England returned to the tier system of restrictions where there was a specific prohibition on organising an indoor gathering of more than 30 people.
When a Downing Street Christmas quiz took place on 15 December, London was under tier 2 restrictions. These rules banned two or more people from different households from meeting indoors, unless "reasonably necessary" for work purposes.
The same rule would have applied when a party - which was joked about in a leaked Downing Street press conference video - was alleged to have taken place on 18 December. At this point London had been moved to tougher tier 3 restrictions.
Furthermore, the government's guidance for the Christmas period specifically said: "Although there are exemptions for work purposes, you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier."
This same line was also tweeted out by the official gov.uk account on 17 December 2020 in response to a question from a member of the public about whether Christmas parties were allowed in the workplace.
How has the PM responded to the allegations?
Allegations of Downing Street parties first surfaced in the Daily Mirror, when it reported in early December that a party had been held in Number 10 during the 2020 Christmas period.
In response, Mr Johnson told MPs that that "all guidance was followed completely in No 10".
However, after the Downing Street press conference video was leaked - which appeared to confirm a Christmas party took place - Mr Johnson said he understood the public anger.
"It goes without saying that if rules were broken then there will be disciplinary action for all those involved," Mr Johnson said.
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Watch: Video obtained by ITV News shows Downing Street staff joking about a No 10 Christmas party during a mock press conference Watch: What has the PM said before about alleged No 10 parties?
Ms Stratton later resigned. Later, when details of the Downing Street quiz emerged, Mr Johnson said he "certainly broke no rules". Number 10 said that the prime minister "briefly took part virtually" to thank staff for their work during the pandemic.
What about other gatherings? Two people pictured with Mr Johnson - wearing tinsel and a Santa hat - were members of his closer staff who had come in to help him with the technology, according to Downing Street.
13 November: Sources told the BBC that Downing Street staff members attended a gathering with Carrie Johnson in the flat where she and the prime minister live. A spokesman for Ms Johnson denies the party took place. Number 10 also insisted that no rules were broken when a photo emerged of the prime minister and his staff with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard in the Downing Street garden from 15 May. Mr Johnson said that the photo showed "people at work", which was allowed under the rules.
27 November: A leaving event was held for No 10 aide, Cleo Watson, where people were drinking, and Mr Johnson made a speech, according to sources.
10 December: The Department for Education has confirmed it had an office gathering to thank staff for their work during the pandemic. It says drinks and snacks were brought by those who attended and no outside guests or support staff were invited.
14 December: The Conservative Party has admitted that an "unauthorised gathering" took place at its HQ in Westminster. It was held by the team of the party's London-mayoral candidate, Shaun Bailey, who has since stepped down as chair of the London Assembly police and crime committee. The Metropolitan Police is to speak to two people who attended the party.
15 December: Multiple sources have told the BBC there was a Christmas quiz for No 10 staff last year. A photo - published by the Sunday Mirror - shows Boris Johnson taking part and sitting between two colleagues in No 10. Mr Johnson has denied any wrongdoing.
The Sunday Mirror has published a picture of Mr Johnson at the quiz, which it said was on 15 December.
16 December: The Department for Transport has apologised after confirming reports of a party in its offices, calling it "inappropriate" and an "error of judgment" by staff.
Which parties are being investigated?
The prime minister asked Cabinet Secretary Simon Case - the most senior civil servant in the UK - to investigate some of the reports.
However, Mr Case stood aside after it emerged that a quiz was held by his own private office on 17 December 2020.
Senior civil servant Sue Gray is now leading the inquiry, which will examine :
The alleged gathering on 27 November
The Department for Education gathering on 10 December
The Downing Street Christmas quiz on 15 December
The alleged Downing Street party on 18 December
Ms Gray will "ascertain the facts and present her findings to the prime minister", according to a spokesperson for No 10.
What rules may have been broken?
At the time of the alleged gathering on 27 November, there was still a national lockdown in force and indoor gatherings were not allowed.
On 15 December, when the Downing Street Christmas quiz took place, London was under tier 2 restrictions. These banned two or more people from different households from meeting indoors, unless "reasonably necessary" for work purposes.
Any party at Downing Street on 18 December would have breached the government's guidance for the Christmas period, which said work Christmas lunches or parties were not allowed "where that is a primarily social activity".
And by this time, London had been moved to tier 3 restrictions . Gatherings of two or more people indoors were banned (with certain exceptions) and there was a specific prohibition on organising an indoor gathering of more than 30 people.
What have the police said?
The Metropolitan Police is not currently investigating the allegations except for the party at Conservative Party HQ.
It said that it did not normally investigate breaches of coronavirus regulations which were reported "long after they are said to have taken place", although it said that officers might review matters if "significant evidence" became available.
What happened to people who broke the rules?
Thousands of of people were issued with fines for breaking rules on gatherings last year, according to figures from the National Police Chiefs' Council.
At the time, large parties could be shut down by the police - with penalties of up to £10,000. Maximum fines were handed out to, among others, party organisers in Northampton and Ormskirk.
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