Oh dear. It seems the great government post-Christmas reset isn't going all too well after last night's revelation that Downing Street staff were invited to a drinks party in the No. 10 garden during the first national lockdown. Martin Reynolds, the PM's Principal Private Secretary, sent an email on 20 May 2020 to more than 100 people asking them to come and 'make the most of the lovely weather' and to 'bring your own booze!' Not Sir Humphrey's finest hour...
Boris and Carrie Johnson are alleged to have attended the garden party too, which, er, makes something of a mockery of the Prime Minister's insistent denials that he knew of no such parties being held throughout the pandemic. Steerpike has rounded up just five examples of the Johnsons and their acolytes denying any such impropriety had taken place.
1. Garden parties, 20 December 2021
After the Guardian revealed pictures of people, including the PM, at No. 10 drinks in the garden on 15 May 2020, Johnson said: 'Those were people at work, talking about work. I have said what I have to say about that.'
2. Broadcast round, 13 December 2021
Asked by Sky News about further parties held in Downing Street, Johnson said: 'I can tell you once again that I certainly broke no rules … all that is being looked into.'
3. Cheese-gate, 8 December 2021
After ITV published footage of Boris Johnson's spokesman Allegra Stratton appearing to confirm a 'cheese and wine' party had taken place in No. 10 in December 2020, Boris Johnson distanced himself from such claims. He told the House of Commons:
“I was also furious to see that clip... I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no covid rules were broken. That is what I have been repeatedly assured. But I have asked the Cabinet Secretary to establish all the facts and to report back as soon as possible. It goes without saying that if those rules were broken, there will be disciplinary action for all those involved.
4. Crime week, 7 December 2021
Johnson's claims on the floor of the House came just days after the Daily Mirror reported that an alleged bash at No. 10 had taken place on 18 December 2020. As the government sought to portray itself as tough on crime, Johnson told broadcasters: 'What I can tell you is that all the guidelines were observed, continue to be observed' while on a visit to HMP Isis. Asked if he investigated personally the claims, the PM said: 'I am satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times.' Restrictions on social mixing were still in place when the 20 May 2020 garden party happened.
5. PMQs, 1 December 2021
As questions swirled about just how many parties were held in No. 10 throughout 2020, Boris Johnson had clearly decided on his preferred choice of words. After Keir Starmer asked at Prime Ministers' Question Time about the 18 December soirée, Johnson told the House of Commons that: 'All guidance was followed completely in No. 10' adding 'I have said what I have said about No. 10 and the events of 12 months ago.' He then accused Starmer of 'playing politics' for questioning his account of the affair.
6. Flatgate, 30 November 2021
Responding to the first allegations of a 2020 Christmas party in the Mirror, a Downing Street spokesperson did not deny the claims, but said: 'Covid rules have been followed at all times.' Separately, a spokesperson for Carrie Johnson denied any parties had taken place in the Number 10 flat, telling the paper: 'This is total nonsense. Mrs Johnson has followed coronavirus rules at all times and it is categorically untrue to suggest otherwise.' Carrie and Boris are both reported to have attended the 20 May 2020 garden party.
7. Ministers deny claims, November to December 2021
Throughout the last two months various ministers have been wheeled out on media rounds to defend claims about what did and did not go on in No. 10 during the first year of the pandemic. On 2 December vaccines minister Maggie Throup said on Question Time 'I have been reassured that all guidance was carefully followed.' When pressed, she said: 'Whatever the event was, then the guidance was followed', later describing the reports as 'rumour and hearsay'.
Following Kit Malthouse's Sky appearance on 6 December – in which the policing minister confirmed the police should investigate historic crimes – a No. 10 spokesman told a lobby briefing that no party had taken place on 18 December 2020. They said: 'As the press secretary set out at a number of occasions, when questioned about this originally, there was not a party and the Covid rules were followed at all times.'