An investigation into allegations of COVID lockdown-busting parties in Number 10 has been widened after former top Downing Street aide Dominic Cummings made a fresh claim.
In his latest blog post, the prime minister’s ex-chief adviser confirmed that he was present in a photo of an alleged wine and cheese gathering in Number 10’s garden on 15 May 2020, which was published by the Guardian last month.
But Mr Cummings insisted the photo was “not of a ‘party’ or ‘rule breaking'” and instead captured one of “several meetings” he had been present at in the garden that day.
However, in his blog, Mr Cummings has also made a fresh allegation that there was a social event in Downing Street on 20 May 2020, during England’s first national lockdown, that should not have happened.
It is now understood that senior civil servant Sue Gray’s ongoing investigations into alleged rule-breaking parties in Downing Street and other government buildings will include claims about events in the Number 10 garden on 15 May and 20 May 2020.
‘Parties, photos, trolleys, variants’
Mr Cummings’ blog, in which he maintains his post-Number 10 rudeness about Boris Johnson (repeatedly comparing him to an out-of-control supermarket trolley) is headed: “Parties, photos, trolleys, variants.”
He concludes by claiming Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is “a dud”, but arguing that the Tories only have a chance at the next election if there is a new prime minister.
In his now-familiar rambling and – critics would claim – arrogant tone, Mr Cummings begins by declaring: “15 May was no ‘party’… but the inquiry should look at 20 May.”
But on the cheese and wine party allegations, he is emphatic that there was no rule-breaking on 15 May , despite allegations by senior Labour MPs that it was “a slap in the face” of the British public.
“In the photo of the No10 garden, 15 May 2020, on the front of The Guardian, I am sitting opposite the PM,” he writes.
“The other male is Martin Reynolds, the PM’s Principal Private Secretary and the most senior official in No10. It is alleged by many that this shows ‘a party’, ‘rule breaking’ and so on. This is wrong.
“I had several meetings at that table that day. Before this photo the PM, me and others had a meeting at that table. The meeting ended roughly 6-6.30. The PM and I continued talking as it broke up.
“Someone brought a bottle of wine out to the table. It may have been Martin but I think it was the PM himself who went inside as I was packing stuff up and brought out wine.
“We carried on chatting about COVID, about domestic priorities, and about how to sort out the Cabinet Office which had totally collapsed. Shortly after Carrie joined us.
“(Nobody has been as critical of her as I have for her influence on the PM and No10, but it is an unarguable legal fact that she was allowed by ‘the rules’ to be in the garden in her own home.)
“According to my phone, I left No10 shortly after this photo was taken at about 715.”
He adds: “The scene on the terrace was in no sense a ‘party’ or ‘organised drinks’. Many meetings had been taking place in the garden all day. While the PM and I had been at that table, various other groups had formed and dispersed in the garden/terrace. Those on the terrace nearest me in the photo had been having a meeting.
“No10 staff were ENCOURAGED to have meetings in the garden April-August for the obvious reason that we were in a pandemic with an airborne disease and being outside was safer! All day every day in this period there were many work meetings in the No10 garden.”
Mr Cummings then makes a startling new allegation, not against Mr Johnson personally but against an unnamed senior Number 10 official, claiming: “But there was a social event May 2020 that should not have happened…
“On Wednesday 20 May, the week after this photo, a senior No10 official invited people to ‘socially distanced drinks’ in the garden.”
He claims he and at least one other special adviser said that this seemed to be against the rules and should not happen.
“We were ignored,” he writes. “I was ill and went home to bed early that afternoon but am told this event definitely happened.”
Again without naming the official, Mr Cummings continues: “In my opinion the official who organised this should anyway have been removed that summer because of his failures over covid.
“I said this repeatedly to the PM. The PM rejected my argument, as he did about (former Health Secretary Matt) Hancock and many others who should have been replaced.
“In my opinion it would not be fair for most officials who went to the garden for drinks on 20 May to be punished because, given the nature of the invitation, a junior official would be justified in thinking ‘this must somehow be within the rules or X would not have invited me’.”
But he concludes: “Other than the 20 May, I’m not aware of events in No10 that ‘broke the rules’ while I was there.”
Elsewhere in his blog, Mr Cummings accuses Mr Johnson of a determination to “keep rubbish people in critical positions” and says: “Ideas for how the trolley can ‘get a grip’ are all false.
“Chaos will continue until he is removed. Tory MPs should ensure this happens before August so a new PM is in place for September and can use power for 18 months.
“The 2024 election means the Tories asking for 19 years and a fifth term. This request has never been granted in British democratic politics. ‘Time for change’ will be extremely powerful.
“The fact that (Labour leader Sir Keir) Starmer is a dud means the Tories do have a chance but only if there is a new PM with a great team that can figure out the right priorities and execute with ruthless skill, speed and focus.
“If the trolley is left smashing around for another two years, the Tories could not only lose but be so discredited they are out for a decade.”