Downing Street staff ‘held regular wine-time Friday’ drinks during lockdown

By Liam James
Reuters

Downing Street staff reportedly held drinks on Friday evenings throughout the pandemic with Boris Johnson regularly seeing them doing so.

The prime minister encouraged aides to “let off steam” despite having banned indoor socialising during lockdown, The Mirror reported a source as saying.

The paper said the end of week “wine-time Fridays” became such a fixture that staff bought a £142 drinks fridge and would head to a nearby Tesco with a suitcase to stock up on wine and beer.

The fridge was reportedly delivered on 11 December 2020, when rules banned two or more people from different households from meeting indoors, unless it was necessary for work.

Downing Street on Friday apologised to Buckingham Palace after reports that staff attended two separate parties on the night before Prince Philip’s funeral in April.

Officials have refused to confirm or deny if Boris Johnson was aware of the two parties, after he admitted to attending an earlier drinks party and was pictured at a second.

The prime minister’s spokesman said: “It is deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning and No 10 has apologised to the palace.”

Around 50 Downing Street staff had the hours between 4pm and 7pm scheduled into their electronic calendars for “wine-time Fridays” every week, according to The Mirror.

The paper said the drinks were organised by the No 10 press office but advisers from other parts of the building would also attend. The prime minister’s then defence adviser Captain Steve Higham reportedly showed up regularly.

A No 10 spokesperson said: “There is an ongoing investigation to establish the facts around the nature of gatherings, including attendance, setting and the purpose with reference to adherence to the guidance at the time. The findings will be made public in due course.”

Allegations of parties in Westminster during periods of lockdown are being investigated by Sue Gray, a senior civil servant. She is expected to present her findings to Mr Johnson next week. He has said that he will publish the report and make a statement in the House of Commons.

Sources have told The Independent that the prime minister is drawing up a list of officials to offer resignations to protect his own position after the publication of the report.

He is thought to have added to the list Dan Rosenfield, his chief of staff, and Martin Reynolds, the civil servant who organised the party Mr Johnson admitted to attending.

The plan is being called “Operation Save Big Dog”, a name understood to have been chosen by Mr Johnson.

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