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Downing Street parties: What Covid rules were broken? Downing Street parties: What Covid rules were broken?
(2 days later)
Senior civil servant Sue Gray, who is investigating parties and gatherings in Downing Street during the pandemic, has published her initial findings. The senior civil servant investigating parties and gatherings in Downing Street during the pandemic has published her initial findings. Of the 16 events named by Sue Gray, the Metropolitan Police is investigating 12.
Although she criticises "failures of leadership", she has not published specific details of the events - at the request of the Metropolitan Police which is conducting its own investigation. During the pandemic, there has been a mixture of Covid rules and guidance. Rules were legally enforceable (through fines or even prosecution), guidance was not enforced (unless backed up in law).
She says it is "not appropriate", given the police investigation, to comment on whether the gatherings were in line with the relevant guidance and regulations. So, what were the rules at the time?
So what was the Covid guidance and regulation at the time? 14 January 2021 - gathering
The birthday celebration on 19 June, 2020 A gathering was held in Downing Street for the departure of two No 10 private secretaries, Ms Gray's report states.
ITV News said it took place in the Cabinet Room just after 14:00 BST on 19 June 2020, adding that it had allegedly been arranged as a surprise for Mr Johnson by his then fiancee, Carrie Symonds. According to the Guardian, Boris Johnson made a short speech and stayed for around five minutes. Prosecco is alleged to have been drunk by some staff. Downing Street said it could not comment due to the police investigation.
The rules
England had entered its third national lockdown on 6 January 2021. A "stay at home" order was in place. People were allowed to leave home for work (if they could not reasonably work from home), but were not allowed to meet socially with others.
Police could issue fines starting at £200 in England for those breaking the rules.
13 November 2020 - two gatherings
Ms Gray says two gatherings took place in Downing Street: one to mark the departure of a special adviser and one in the Downing Street flat.
According to the Daily Telegraph, a celebratory event was held in the private flat of Mr Johnson and his wife Carrie following the departure of Dominic Cummings, the PM's former senior advisor.
The Telegraph claims Mr Johnson was seen heading up to the flat on the night of the event. Downing Street said it could not comment on this.
Previously, when asked in Parliament about whether he could tell MPs whether a party did take place on this date, he told MPs: "No, but I am sure that whatever happened, the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times."
The rules
A second national lockdown was in force at the time and and indoor gatherings with other households were not allowed (unless for work).
19 June 2020 - birthday celebration
ITV News said this took place in the Cabinet Room and that it had allegedly been arranged as a surprise for Mr Johnson by his then fiancee, Carrie Symonds.
Up to 30 people attended, sang Happy Birthday and were served cake, according to ITV News. As well as Downing Street staff, the interior designer Lulu Lytle - who was not a member of No 10 staff - was present.Up to 30 people attended, sang Happy Birthday and were served cake, according to ITV News. As well as Downing Street staff, the interior designer Lulu Lytle - who was not a member of No 10 staff - was present.
No 10 said staff had "gathered briefly" to "wish the prime minister a happy birthday", adding that he had been there "for less than 10 minutes". No 10 said staff had "gathered briefly" to "wish the prime minister a happy birthday", adding that the PM had been there "for less than 10 minutes".
Sue Gray report: What exactly is she looking at?Sue Gray report: What exactly is she looking at?
What were the Covid rules on 19 June 2020? The rules
Gatherings of more than two people inside were banned by law. An exception was allowed if the gathering "was reasonably necessary" for work purposes. Gatherings of more than two people inside were banned by law. An exception was allowed if the gathering "was reasonably necessary" for work purposes. Police fines started at £100.
For people who broke Covid restrictions, 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 seems unlikely the birthday celebration would have been within the rules, argues human rights barrister Adam Wagner.It seems unlikely the birthday celebration would have been within the rules, argues human rights barrister Adam Wagner.
"I don't think even Number 10 is giving an excuse which would have amounted to a defence in law," he told the BBC."I don't think even Number 10 is giving an excuse which would have amounted to a defence in law," he told the BBC.
Josephine sets a great example to us all by postponing her birthday party until we have sent coronavirus packing.Together we can beat this. In the meantime let's all wish her happy birthday (twice) whilst washing our hands. #BeLikeJosephine #StayHomeSaveLives https://t.co/xmDOw60hhV pic.twitter.com/yl7uxe9lhh
Three months prior to the birthday gathering, Mr Johnson posted a handwritten letter, sent to a seven-year-old girl who had postponed her own birthday party, on his official Twitter account.Three months prior to the birthday gathering, Mr Johnson posted a handwritten letter, sent to a seven-year-old girl who had postponed her own birthday party, on his official Twitter account.
"We have all got to do our bit to protect the NHS and save lives, and that is exactly what you are doing, so well done! You are setting a great example", he wrote."We have all got to do our bit to protect the NHS and save lives, and that is exactly what you are doing, so well done! You are setting a great example", he wrote.
The drinks party attended by the PM 20 May 2020 - garden drinks party
Mr Johnson has already apologised to MPs for attending a drinks party in the Downing Street garden, during the first lockdown, on 20 May, 2020. Boris Johnson has already apologised to MPs for attending a drinks party in the Downing Street garden, saying he spent 25 minutes thanking staff, before returning to his office.
However, he said he had not been notified in advance of the party, and had "believed implicitly" it had been a work event. Staff had been invited to "bring your own booze" to the event. Mr Johnson said he had not been notified in advance and had "believed implicitly" it had been a work event.
He had spent 25 minutes thanking staff, before returning to his office, the prime minister said. The rules
Details of the event - to which up to 100 people had been invited to "bring your own booze" - were revealed by ITV News. This was during the first lockdown when people could not leave their homes - or be outside the place they lived - without a reasonable excuse, which included work (where you couldn't work from home).
The list of alleged government lockdown gatherings
What were the Covid rules on 20 May 2020?
The 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.
It would be difficult to see how the Downing Street event would have been in line with these rules, argues Mr Wagner.It would be difficult to see how the Downing Street event would have been in line with these rules, argues Mr 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.""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.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 was involved in a case to bring a judicial review against the Met Police over its earlier decision not to investigate the 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.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.
As well as legal restrictions, government guidance (which was not enforced through fines or prosecution, unless backed up in law) was also in place. On the day of the party, the government Twitter account reminded people of the existing guidance that gatherings must be limited to two people outside.
On the day of the party, the government Twitter account summarised it, saying that gatherings must be limited to two people outside.
Mr Johnson told MPs that as a "work event", the gathering was technically within the guidance.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." At the time, the "working safely during coronavirus" guidelines 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".
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.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 parties? What about the rules around other gatherings?
Two leaving parties took place on 16 April 2021 in Downing Street and went on until the early hours. Legal restrictions at the time 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. Boris Johnson did not attend and was at his official country residence, Chequers, at the time On 15 May 2020, the prime minister and his staff were pictured in the Downing Street garden with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard. This was during the first lockdown when people could not leave their homes without a reasonable excuse. Mr Johnson said that the photo showed "people at work".
One was alleged to have taken place on 27 November 2020 - a leaving party for Cleo Watson, a former aide to Dominic Cummings. On 27 November 2020, there was a gathering for a special adviser who was leaving. At this point, a second lockdown was in force and indoor gatherings with other households were not allowed (unless for work).
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 moved to a tier system of restrictions.
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. On 15 December 2020, a Downing Street Christmas quiz took place. Number 10 said that the prime minister "briefly took part virtually" to thank staff for their work during the pandemic.
When a Downing Street Christmas quiz took place on 15 December 2020, 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 police are not investigating this event. At this time, 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 leaving drinks were held at the Cabinet Office for Kate Josephs, the outgoing head of the Covid taskforce, on 17 December 2020. It would also have applied to a party - which was joked about in a leaked Downing Street press conference video - alleged to have taken place on 18 December 2020. At this time, London had been moved to tougher tier 3 restrictions. The same rule would have applied when leaving drinks were held at the Cabinet Office for Kate Josephs, the outgoing head of the Covid taskforce, on 17 December 2020, as well as a separate gathering in No 10 Downing Street for the departure of a No 10 official.
It would also have applied to a party - which was joked about in a leaked Downing Street press conference video - alleged to have taken place on 18 December 2020. At this time, 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."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 government Twitter 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. This line was tweeted out by the government Twitter account in response to a question from a member of the public about whether Christmas parties were allowed in the workplace.
Which events are police investigating? When Boris Johnson was subsequently asked in Parliament about whether a party did take place on 18 December, he told MPs: "I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged, that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken."
Sue Gray's report says the police are investigating gatherings on:
20 May 2020 - a gathering in the Downing Street garden attended by Boris Johnson
18 June 2020 - a leaving party in the Cabinet Office
19 June 2020 - a gathering for the prime minister's birthday
13 November 2020 - gatherings in the Downing Street flat and elsewhere in Downing Street for the departure of Dominic Cummings
17 December 2020 - various gatherings in Downing Street and the Cabinet Office
18 December 2020 - Christmas gathering at Downing Street
14 January 2021 - leaving party at Downing Street
16 April 2021 - leaving parties at Downing Street.
How has the PM responded?
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: What has the PM said before about alleged No 10 parties?Watch: What has the PM said before about alleged No 10 parties?
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. On 16 April 2021, on the eve of the socially-distanced funeral for Prince Philip, two leaving parties took place in Downing Street. Boris Johnson did not attend these. The rules 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.
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 2020. Mr Johnson said that the photo showed "people at work", which was allowed under the rules. The police are not investigating this gathering.
A Downing Street spokesperson says that, after the police investigation ends, the Prime Minister will ask Sue Gray to update and publish her findings.
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