Boris Johnson is facing fresh claims of a Downing Street party held during lockdown – this time relating to an event during the first few months of the pandemic – as police have said they still don’t plan to investigate allegations of other Number 10 gatherings.
The prime minister is alleged to have joined Number 10 staff for a gathering in Downing Street in May 2020, during the first national lockdown.
According to both the Guardian and Independent, Mr Johnson was present for around 15 minutes and told one aide inside Number 10 that they deserved a drink for “beating back” coronavirus.
It comes after the prime minister has already been rocked by claims of a number of events held in Number 10 and other government buildings in November and December last year, at a time of strict COVID rules.
In response to those allegations, the Metropolitan Police said on Thursday it is in contact with the Cabinet Office over a Whitehall investigation – led by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case – into those claims.
But the force said that “unless there is evidence from the Cabinet Office or other evidence comes to light”, it will “not at this time” commence its own investigation into alleged gatherings in Number 10 or the Department for Education.
However, the Met did say it would make contact with two people who attended a gathering at the Conservative Party’s headquarters on 14 December 2020 in an alleged breach of COVID restrictions.
Former Conservative London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey this week apologised for attending a party with his campaign team, after pictures emerged of an event in December last year.
Scotland Yard said: “In line with the Met’s policy, officers do not normally investigate breaches of Coronavirus Regulations when they are reported long after they are said to have taken place.
“However, if significant evidence suggesting a breach of the regulations becomes available, officers may review and consider it.”
In the fresh claims, a joint investigation by the Guardian and Independent said that about 20 staff drank wine and spirits and ate pizza following a COVID-19 news conference on the day in May last year.
Some were said to have been in offices inside Number 10 while others went into the Downing Street garden.
Sources were quoted as saying that some staff drank until late into the evening.
Matt Hancock, who was then health secretary and had earlier that afternoon delivered a 5pm Downing Street news conference, was also claimed to have been seen at one point.
At the time of the alleged gathering, on 15 May, COVID rules allowed people to only meet one other person not from their household outside in a public place, as long as they remained at a distance of two metres.
At the news conference that day, Mr Hancock urged people to “keep an eye on your family and don’t take risks”.
Days earlier, the prime minister had used a national TV address to call on the public to “stay alert” and “continue to control the virus and save lives”.
Both publications said there was no suggestion that either Mr Johnson or Mr Hancock drank alcohol themselves, or stayed late.
Responding to the claims, a Number 10 spokesperson said: “In the summer months Downing Street staff regularly use the garden for some meetings.
“On 15 May 2020, the prime minister held a series of meetings throughout the afternoon, including briefly with the then health and care secretary and his team in the garden following a press conference.
“The prime minister went to his residence shortly after 7pm.
“A small number of staff required to be in work remained in the Downing Street garden for part of the afternoon and evening.”
A spokesman for Mr Hancock said there was “no suggestion” that the former cabinet minister “did anything wrong”.
“He was in Downing Street to give the press conference that day,” they said.
“Matt arrived at Downing Street at 4:43pm and gave the press conference from 5:03 to approximately 5:53 on lifting lockdown measures.
“After the press conference, Matt debriefed his own team, then went to the Downing Street garden to debrief the prime minister.
“He left Downing Street at 6:32pm and went back to the Department for Health and Social Care.”
The timings given by Mr Hancock’s spokesman are understood to be confirmed by records for his ministerial car.