Police 'in contact with Cabinet Office' over Downing Street garden party

Leaked email shows Boris Johnson's PPS inviting more than 100 people to May 2020 get-together
The Downing Street garden, where staff are alleged to have gathered for the BYOB drinks. Photo: No.10/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The Metropolitan Police is speaking to the Cabinet Office about alleged breaches of Covid lockdown rules at Downing Street, after an email inviting more than 100 staff to a party in May 2020 was published.

The force said last night it was “in contact with the Cabinet Office” about “widespread” press reports about a “bring your own booze” event in the No.10 garden.

The announcement came after ITV News published an email from Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, to Downing Street officials inviting them to “make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No.10 garden”.

Around 40 people came to the event on 20 May 2020, eating picnic food and drinking, ITV reported.

At a press conference just an hour before the event’s stated 6pm start time, then-Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden had told people to “limit contact” with others and reiterated the lockdown rule that “you can meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor, public place — provided that you stay two metres apart”.

Five days later, the PM was asked what should be done to discourage people from breaking the rules. “The police will step in if necessary and encourage people to obey the law,” he said.

Asked yesterday if he and his wife, Carrie Symonds, attended the event, Johnson said: “All that, as you know, is the subject of a proper investigation by Sue Gray."

Gray, the Cabinet Office’s former ethics chief, was brought in to lead an investigation into several alleged events at Downing Street and elsewhere in government that may have breached coronavirus restrictions.

Gray, who returned from a stint in the Northern Ireland Civil Service to become second permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office  in April, took over the inquiry from cabinet secretary Simon Case in December when it was reported that an event was held by his own private office. Gray currently works at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Health minister Edward Argar said this morning that “what actually happened or didn’t happen in Downing Street is a matter for Ms Gray”.

“I can understand that with these allegations people will be upset and angry, which is why it’s right that the prime minister asked for that independent investigation to be completed at pace, to get to the facts behind these allegations,” he told Sky News.

“She will come up with her conclusions having interviewed the relevant people, having looked at the evidence,” he added.

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