How the Partygate scandal unfolded

With the Met Police launching an investigation into Downing Street parties during lockdown, CSW looks back at the timeline of events and how the revelations unfolded
The Met has launched its own investigation into parties at Downing Street. Photo: Guy Bell/Alamy.

By Tevye Markson

26 Jan 2022

The Met Police has confirmed it will investigate “a number of” parties that took place at No.10 and other government buildings during coronavirus lockdowns.

A Cabinet Office investigation by Sue Gray into the parties was expected to be completed and published this week but it is now unclear when, and how much of, the report will be published. While we await the next Partygate twist, CSW takes a look at how the scandal has unfolded, and rounds up the confirmed and alleged parties, events and gatherings so far.

How the scandal unfolded

The Mirror’s Pippa Crerar first broke the news of parties taking place at Downing Street in a report on 30 November, accusing the PM and his staff of breaking Covid lockdown rules at two parties in November 2020.

The PM rejected the claims, but days later on 12 December, a video emerged of No. 10 staff joking about having held a party.

Johnson apologised and asked cabinet secretary Simon Case to launch an investigation and provide, according to the inquiry’s terms of reference, a “general understanding of the nature of the gatherings, including attendance, the setting and the purpose”

However, Case recused himself from this inquiry on 18 December,  after reports emerged he had attended a party himself. Sue Gray, former head of the Cabinet Office propriety and ethics team and now a second perm sec at the communities department, took over the investigation.

Other allegations have since emerged, including drinks in the Downing Street garden, DJing at No. 10 and other events at various government buildings such as a leaving do for the former head of the Covid Taskforce, Kate Josephs.

The crescendo of controversy grew when ITV’s Paul Brand revealed Johnson’s private secretary had invited more than 100 people to a BYOB event in December 2020. Despite reported concern from some members of staff, around 30 people attended, including the PM. Johnson apologised, saying he had thought it was a work event and only attended for 25 minutes.

This week came new revelations of a birthday party for the PM, days before Gray was reportedly set to publish her investigation.

And now the latest twist: the Met Police has announced its own probe, after Gray passed new information to the force. The terms of her inquiry required her to do this if she found evidence of possible crimes, but the announcement has led to confusion about what will happen to Gray’s own report – how much of it will be made public and when it will be released.

Timeline of Parties

15 May, 2020

Boris Johnson, his then fiancée Carrie, and 15 other people attended an event in the Downing Street garden with wine and cheese.

At this time, people could not leave home without a reasonable excuse and could only meet one person outside from another household whilst exercising. The same day, then-health secretary Matt Hancock urged “people to stick to the rules and not take advantage of the good weather over the May weekend to socialise in groups”.

20 May

Around 30 Downing Street staff gathered for BYOB drinks in the No. 10 garden. The PM’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, sent email invites out to more than 100 staff. Johnson said he attended for 25 minutes and though it was a “work event”.

The rules were the same as for the party on 15 May.

19 June

A party was held in the cabinet room for the prime minister's 56th birthday with cake and M&S food. Up to 30 people gathered to sing happy birthday to the PM and eat cake, with the gathering lasting 20-30 minutes. Downing Street flat refurb designer Lulu Lytle was also present. The PM said he stayed for 10 minutes.

The rules for gatherings remained unchanged until 23 June, when two households were allowed to meet.

13 November

The Johnsons allegedly hosted a flat party to mark the departure of Downing Street director of communications Lee Cain.

England was in its second lockdown at the time, which meant a return to the 13 May rules of people only being able to meet one other person from another household outside while exercising.

25 November

The Treasury held “impromptu drinks” at the office after working hours. Reports suggest around 24 staff who were working on the autumn Spending Review attended.

The drinks were held during the second lockdown.

27 November

A leaving event was reportedly held for Johnson’s senior aide Cleo Watson, with claims the PM gave a speech.

England was still in its second lockdown, which ended on 2 December with the move to the tiers system.

10 December

The Department for Education held a party at its office building, with then-education secretary Gavin Williamson said to have given a speech.

At this time, London was under Tier 2 Covid rules, with social mixing between households banned indoors.

14 December

Conservative London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey held an unauthorised gathering for 25 people at CCHQ.

With Tier 2 rules in place, people were only allowed to meet people who were not part of their household outside.

15 December

Johnson hosted an online Christmas quiz in Downing Street.

London was still under Tier 2 Covid restrictions, although the government had announced plans to move it into Tier 3. On that day, the PM urged the public to keep celebrations short and small.

16 December

The Department for Transport hosted Christmas gatherings with senior civil servants.

On this day, London entered Tier 3, which meant people could only meet in groups of up to six, outdoors, unless they were part of a household or support bubble.

17 December

Two parties in the Cabinet Office were held: A leaving party for Kate Josephs, then head of the Covid taskforce, and a virtual quiz. Josephs could face sanctions from her new employer over the leaving drinks.

This was day two of London being in Tier 3.

18 December

A No.10 Christmas party was held, with a reported 50 people taking part in a Christmas quiz and secret Santa gift exchange.

This was the day before the PM announced London would be plunged into Tier 4 restrictions, where nobody could meet anyone outside their household.

16 April, 2021

Two staff parties were hosted at No.10: one for Johnson’s director of communications James Slack (now deputy editor of the Sun) and the other for one of the PM’s personal photographers

No indoor mixing was allowed between households at the time.

April (date unconfirmed)

Labour leader Keir Starmer had a beer and dinner with staff in the run-up to the Hartlepool by-election.

At the time, England was in Step 2 of its lockdown roadmap, with indoor socialising banned with anyone outside your household or social bubble.

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