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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Ashley Cowburn,Lizzie Dearden and Adam Forrest

Partygate: Timeline of government gatherings as more fines issued


Boris Johnson is under intense pressure over Partygate again, after he and his chancellor Rishi Sunak were handed fixed penalty notice fines by the Metropolitan Police.

Scotland Yard announced more than 50 fines for government staff members over law-breaking events held at Downing Street and Whitehall during the Covid pandemic.

Having initially said in December he was “sickened” at the idea of No 10 staff flouting rules, Mr Johnson found himself forced to admit that he too had attended an event on 20 May 2020.

Since then, more damning reports have appeared about further pandemic-era parties allegedly held behind the scenes in Westminster.

The Independent looks at all the claims of parties and investigations into gatherings across No 10, government departments and at Conservative Party HQ.

15 May 2020 – No 10 garden gathering

A joint investigation by The Independent and The Guardian revealed that a wine and pizza gathering was held in the No 10 rose garden on 15 May 2020 – despite people from different households being restricted to one-on-one meetings outdoors.

An image later published showed wine and cheese being consumed by the prime minister, Ms Johnson, advisers including Dominic Cummings and Matt Hancock, the former health secretary.

Mr Johnson has previously insisted “those people were at work, talking about work”. At the time, Covid laws banned gatherings of more than two people unless they met specific exemptions, such as being “for work purposes”.

20 May 2020 – ‘Bring your own booze’

In a blog post, Mr Cummings, the PM’s former chief adviser, dismissed the idea that the 15 May photograph depicted a party, insisting it was common practice for meetings to be held in the open air of the garden.

However, he claimed that a “socially distanced drinks” event did take place on 20 May 2020. The row exploded as a leaked email sent from the PM’s private secretary showed over 100 No 10 staff were invited to the event, told to “bring your own booze”.

Mr Johnson subsequently apologised, confirming that he attended the event for around 25 minutes but assumed it was “a work event” – an execuse that drew laughs of incredulity in the Commons and mockery from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

This became one of 12 events investigated by the Metropolitan Police as part of the Operation Hillman investigation, after senior civil servant Sue Gray’s interim report looked into claims surrouning 16 events.

Boris Johnson says he was ‘at work’ during No 10 garden gathering

18 June 2020 – Cabinet Office leaving do

Ms Gray’s interim report said a gathering in the 70 Whitehall building was held to mark the departure of a No 10 private secretary. It is one of the events the police been investigating.

The event had not previously been disclosed, but The Telegraph said the official in question is former home affairs policy adviser Hannah Young, who left Downing Street to take up the role of deputy consul general in New York.

19 June 2020 – Boris Johnson’s birthday

Downing Street staff allegedly held an afternoon birthday party for Mr Johnson at No 10. His wife, Carrie Johnson, led the surprise gathering where there was cake, a singing of happy birthday, and picnic food from M&S, ITV News reported.

A No 10 spokeswoman confirmed that a group of staff had “gathered briefly” in the Cabinet Room “to wish the prime minister a happy birthday”, adding: “He was there for less than 10 minutes.”

But No 10 denied a claim that Mr Johnson’s friends and family were hosted upstairs in his flat for an event later that evening.

Mr Sunak is said to have received his fixed penalty notice (PFN) fine for attending the birthday party at No 10 Cabinet Room, which is subject to the police probe.

Boris Johnson was 'ambushed with a cake', claims loyal Tory MP

13 November 2020 – Downing Street ‘flat party’

Another allegation made by Mr Cummings was of a “flat party” in Mr Johnson’s official residence on 13 November 2020 – the same day he left No 10. Mr Cummings claimed staff “could hear the music playing loudly”.

Asked at PMQs in December whether there had been a party on 13 November 2020, Mr Johnson said “no” but added: “I’m sure that whatever happened the guidance was followed at all times.”

This is another of the events which the police is looking into. According to reports at the time, Mr Johnson gave a leaving speech for Lee Cain, his departing director of communications.

New lockdown laws had once again banned gatherings and leaving home “without reasonable excuse” at the time. Indoor gatherings were allowed in some circumstances if “required precautions” were undertaken.

27 November 2020 – Cleo Watson’s leaving event

Another leaving event was reported to have been held two weeks later — when the lockdown remained in place — for adviser Cleo Watson, with the PM personally delivering a speech while alcohol was consumed. It was one of the events looked at by Ms Gray, but police chose not to investigate.

10 December 2020 – Education department drinks event

Also under scrutiny is a social event reportedly held at the London offices of the Department for Education on 10 December 2020, instigated by the then-education secretary Gavin Williamson to thank his staff.

The department admitted a “gathering of colleagues” took place on 10 December, with “drink and snacks brought by those attending”, adding: “Looking back we accept it would have been better not have gathered in this way at that particular time”.

The law had changed again, including different levels of restrictions for different areas according to Covid rates. London was in Tier 2, which banned indoor social gatherings unless specific exemptions applied.

14 December 2020 – Shaun Bailey’s Tory HQ do

Four days later, with Londoners still subject to Tier 2 restrictions, a party took place at the Conservative Party headquarters in Westminster.

A spokesperson for the party said the event was “authorised” and disciplinary action was was taken against four CCHQ staff seconded to the then London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey’s campaign.

The Mirror newspaper later published an image of the gathering — which feature staffers and a catered buffet – leading to the resignation of Mr Bailey from an official role at the London Assembly as chair of the police and crime committee.

15 December 2020 – Christmas quiz

The following day, No 10 staff were involved in a festive quiz, with reports suggesting invites were sent out in advance. An image later published by the Sunday Mirror showed the PM flanked by colleagues, with one draped in tinsel and another wearing a Santa hat.

Downing Street said the prime minister had “briefly” attended the quiz – after the photographic evidence emerged – but insisted it was a virtual event and claimed he broke no rules. Tier 2 laws remained in force.

16 December 2020 – Transport department drinks event

The Mirror reported senior civil servants were “boozing and dancing” at yet another event, this one allegedly planned by staff from transport secretary Grant Shapps’ office.

A departmental spokesman said: “Fewer than a dozen staff who were working in the office had a low-key, socially distanced gathering ... where food and drink was consumed. We recognise this was inappropriate and apologise for the error of judgement.”

At midnight, London had been moved into tougher Tier 3 restrictions and indoor gatherings remained banned.

17 December 2020 – More No 10 leaving drinks

A leaving do was held for a departing Downing Street official. The Telegraph reported that the staff member in question was Captain Steve Higham, then one of Mr Johnson’s private secretaries, who advised on defence and national security issues.

The Mirror, which first reported the event, also being probed by the police, and said Mr Johnson was only there “for a few minutes”.

17 December 2020 – Cabinet Office drinks events

The former director-general of the Government’s Covid Taskforce, Kate Josephs, said she was “truly sorry” over leaving drinks held in the Cabinet Office.

Separately cabinet secretary Simon Case removed himself from the inquiry into Whitehall parties – to be replaced by Ms Gray – after reports emerged of a gathering in the Cabinet Office. Both events have been probed by police.

The Cabinet Office said Mr Case played no part in the event “but walked through the team’s office on the way to his own”. Both Cabinet office events are being probed by the police.

18 December 2020 ‘Christmas party’ that started scandal

Allegations of a Christmas party held in No 10 on 18 December 2020 were the focus of much anger at the end of the last year when the reports first emerged in The Mirror.

The event happened while London remained in strict Tier 3 measures, and just a day before Mr Johnson imposed an effective lockdown in the capital and other swathes of the country.

Mr Johnson was forced to address the issue in the Commons after the explosive leak of a video showing No 10 staff holding a mock press conference and making jokes about a Christmas party.

Sobbing Allegra Stratton resigns over No 10 party video

It led to the resignation of government aide Allegra Stratton and the PM announcing Ms Gray’s investigation, claiming he was “shocked” by the video. “I apologise unreservedly for the offence that it has caused up,” Mr Johnson told MPs. It’s one of the events being probed by police.

14 January 2021 – More No 10 leaving drinks

The police said another one of the 12 events being probed was a gathering was held in No 10 to mark the departure of two private secretaries on 14 January last year.

Reports have suggested the PM attended the leaving event, which was for a senior civil servant in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, according to The Telegraph. The other official’s identity is so far unknown.

16 April 2021 – Leaving drinks on eve of Philip’s funeral

Reports of gatherings at No 10 appeared in The Daily Telegraph alleging that two parties took place on the evening of Friday 16 April 2021 – when England was under Step 2 Covid restrictions that banned indoor mixing.

The events, being probed by police, occurred on the evening before Prince Philip’s funeral that saw the Queen sit alone at a socially-distanced ceremony.

According to the newspaper, witnesses said that “excessive alcohol” was drunk and attendees danced to music. One point a staffer was allegedly sent to a local Co-op supermarket with a suitcase to with bottles of wine.

One event was held for James Slack, the then-director of communications at No 10, who now works as deputy editor-in-chef at The Sun newspaper, and the other for Mr Johnson’s personal photographer.

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