Boris Johnson is under renewed pressure to answer questions over alleged gatherings held at Number 10 after the emergence of a photo taken when lockdown restrictions on meeting others were still in place.
The picture, first published by The Guardian, shows the prime minister, his wife Carrie with their then-newborn baby Wilfred, and colleagues with wine and cheese in the Downing Street garden on 15 May 2020 during the first national lockdown.
Nineteen people were present and there were “spirits and pizza inside and outside the building”, the newspaper reported.
It happened at a time when people were still being asked to remain two metres apart, even outdoors, and being urged to “stay at home as much as is possible”.
Schools did not reopen for another fortnight, while pubs and restaurants remained closed until early July.
Downing Street has insisted the photo shows a “staff meeting”.
“As we said last week, work meetings often take place in the Downing Street garden in the summer months. On this occasion there were staff meetings following a Number 10 press conference,” a spokesman said.
“Downing Street is the prime minister’s home as well as his workplace. The prime minister’s wife lives in Number 10 and therefore also legitimately uses the garden.”
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told Sky News that Number 10 is “fundamentally a place of work” and also the PM’s residence.
“The prime minister has got a very young family and I think if you begrudge his wife coming down in a break from the business of the day, I don’t think that is right,” he said.
Mr Raab added that the people in the photo are in suits or formal attire and “given the pressures Number 10 were under, they might have a drink after the formal business has ended”.
“This is not anything to do with the social mixing rules and it is consistent with the guidance at the time,” Mr Raab said.
Sky News has been unable to independently confirm the details of the report.
On the day the photo is said to have been taken, the then-health secretary, Matt Hancock, had given a news conference in which he said: “You can meet one other person from outside your household in an outdoor, public place. But please keep two metres apart.”
He went on: “For the vast majority of people, staying alert still means staying at home as much as is possible – working from home when you can, limiting contact with people, keeping your distance if you go out, two metres wherever possible, (and) washing your hands regularly.”
Human rights barrister Adam Wagner, who examines coronavirus regulations and interprets them for the public, said he was “doubtful” the gathering “was against the law”, but that it may have been against guidance.
He tweeted that regulations at the time stated “you couldn’t be outside the place you were living without a reasonable excuse” and that working would be such a reason.
He added that there was “no way of knowing from a pic that they weren’t working”.
However, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner has called on Mr Johnson to “tell us the truth”.
She wrote on Twitter: “I guess staff meetings look a bit different if you went to Eton?
“Enough is enough. Tell us the truth about what was going on in Downing Street from the very beginning immediately @BorisJohnson.”
The alleged gathering is one of a number which have been reported across Whitehall during COVID-19 restrictions.
Senior civil servant Sue Gray has been tasked with investigating the reports after Cabinet Secretary Simon Case was removed from the investigation after it was revealed he had known about a quiz held in his department.