Steerpike

Downing Street’s wine-time Fridays

Downing Street's wine-time Fridays
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It was easy to get the sense in 2020 that the government didn't want the lockdowns to end. Now we all realise why: everyone in No. 10 was having an absolute whale of a time. Less than 24 hours after the Telegraph revealed No. 10 held two parties the night before Prince Philip's funeral (classy), the Mirror has just reported that its staff held 'wine-time Fridays every week' throughout the pandemic. Such events were scheduled in the weekly calendar of 50 Downing Street aides between 4 p.m and 7 p.m throughout the Covid crisis, with Boris Johnson himself witnessing the gatherings where he encouraged staff to 'let off steam.'

The end-of-week drinks are part of a long-standing tradition in government but they reportedly continued while the rest of the country were, for the most part, confined to their homes. At the time, households were not allowed to mix indoors or in most outdoor places, with exemptions for people in support bubbles and a maximum of six people allowed to meet in some outdoor public spaces. Staff have also been accused of taking a suitcase to Tesco Metro by Westminster tube station – the most confusingly laid-out mini-market in the western world – where they filled it up with booze. A 34-bottle £142 drinks fridge was even installed on 11 December 2020 to keep supplies of beer, prosecco and wine within easy reach as Britain prepared to enter its second national lockdown.

This news comes just hours after the former head of the Covid taskforce had to apologise for yet another drinks bash on 17 December 2020. Kate Josephs, who was a director general in the unit that coordinated the government Covid response and is now chief executive at Sheffield City Council, had drinks that evening to mark her departure from the civil service. Dozens of staff attended, even though London was in Tier 3 lockdown at the time, with rules prohibiting households socialising indoors. All these drinks, soirées and shindigs – talk about the Wolf of Downing Street...

Steerpike just wonders where this is going to end: pictures of a Perm Sec doing lines off a White Paper? CCTV footage of Martin 'party Marty' Reynolds doing the samba? An FOI request that shows a smorgasbord of strippers expensed to HMRC? Or yet another conveniently timed revelation released just before Sue Gray finalises her report?

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to steerpike@spectator.co.uk or message @MrSteerpike

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