Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary boasted about officials getting away with holding a bring your own booze garden party at Downing Street during the Covid pandemic.
The WhatsApp message about the May 2020 event from then-PPS Martin Reynolds has been revealed in Sue Gray’s Partygate report.
Boris Johnson was forced to apologise in January after it emerged that he had attended the event, organised by Reynolds, which he said he had "believed implicitly… was a work event". Between 30 and 40 people are understood to have been at the gathering.
On an unknown date after the event, the civil servant said: "Best of luck - a complete nonstory but better than them focusing on our drinks (which we seem to have got away with)," according to Gray’s report.
Reynolds appears to have been referring to the now-infamous BYOB event, Gray said.
It is unclear what the “nonstory” referred to.
Reynolds resigned on 3 February, leaving the role in March when his successor Peter Wilson was appointed. He has since moved on to a new role at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
At a press conference following the release of Gray’s report yesterday, the PM was asked why he did not stop Reynolds from organising parties and whether anyone in government was going to face any disciplinary processes as a result of Partygate.
“I don’t want to comment on individuals named in the report. I don’t think its right for politicians to talk about any officials in that way,” he said.
“I didn’t know. A lot of stuff I saw in the report this morning was new to me. But I think it's important that everybody who has and everybody who hasn't been there, everybody who's in any way involved in this whole sorry business, has got to learn the lessons.”
BYOB: What happened on the day?
Reynolds sent an email to around 200 No.10 staff on 20 May saying: “Hi all, After what has been an incredibly busy period we thought it would be nice to make the most of this lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the garden this evening. Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!”
The invitation was also sent to special advisers in the chancellor’s office and a member of staff in the No.10 Covid-19 Coordination unit.
Reynolds also sent a separate email invitation to other senior officials. Gray’s report shows senior colleagues raised concerns with him about the plans.
Then-No.10 director of communications Lee Cain said: “I’m sure it will be fine – and I applaud the gesture – but a 200 odd person invitation for drinks in the garden of No.10 is somewhat of a comms risk in the current environment.”
Cain said he subsequently advised Reynolds to cancel the event, but Reynolds said he did not recall any such conversation. Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s chief political adviser at the time, also said he raised concerns, but Gray’s report found no documentary evidence of this. A No.10 director declined the invitation and told Gray they had warned either Reynolds or his office that it was not a good idea.
And a No.10 special adviser sent a message to Reynolds later that day flagging that a Covid press conference would be finishing around that time, adding: “So helpful if people can be mindful of that as speakers and cameras are leaving, not walking around waving bottles of wine, etc.”
“Will do my best!” Reynolds replied.
The PM attended the event for around 30 minutes at 6pm, thanking staff before returning to his office with Reynolds for a meeting at 6.30pm. Some people left Downing Street as late as 11pm.
The event included drinks and pizza provided and paid for by staff.
‘Substantial comms risks’ - another event planned by Reynolds
The report also details another occasion where Reynolds planned leaving drinks which took place on 18 June for an unnamed No.10 staffer.
The 12 June WhatsApp exchange with Cain read:
- Martin Reynolds: "[No 10 official's] leaving drinks next week – can we discuss handling!"
- Lee Cain: "Yes – not sure how we want to do it but want to do something"
- Martin Reynolds: "Is it safer to do a larger event indoors but with some people carrying on outside afterwards?"
- Lee Cain: "I'm not sure it works at all to be honest, which would be a shame. I don't see how we can have some kind of party though"
- Martin Reynolds: "So you are saying nothing for [No 10 official]?"
- Lee Cain: "I think it's your decision my friend, not mind [sic]! But it obviously comes with rather substantial comms risks"
No.10 has been approached for comment.