Photo appears to show Downing Street garden gathering during first lockdown

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seen sitting at a patio table with his partner and baby

A leading opposition politician has asked Mr Johnson to 'tell us the truth' about gatherings at Downing Street. Photo: Reuters
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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing a new round of questions about gatherings held in Downing Street during lockdown after a photo emerged showing him attending a cheese and wine event with staff.

Mr Johnson can be seen sitting at a patio table alongside his then-fiancée who appears to be nursing their young son, Wilfred. Two staff members are seated at their table which has a cheeseboard and bottles of wine.

Four other members of staff are at a second table a distance away in the snap published by The Guardian.

Nine people are gathered on the grass, with another two on the floor to the right.

The Guardian and The Independent previously reported that Mr Johnson was present for 15 minutes at the gathering after a Covid briefing on May 15, 2020.

Their reports said about 20 staff drank wine and spirits, and ate pizza after the briefing, at which then health secretary Matt Hancock had told the British public to stay at home “as much as is possible”.

Mr Hancock had also stressed the rules in force meant “you can meet one other person from outside your household in an outdoor, public place” as long as you kept two metres apart.

The main opposition Labour Party's deputy leader Angela Rayner urged Mr Johnson to “tell us the truth” about gatherings at Downing Street.

Dominic Raab, the UK’s Justice Secretary and deputy prime minister, defended the gathering shown in the photo, saying Downing Street is “fundamentally a place of work”.

Asked why Mr Johnson’s fiancée and baby would attend a work meeting, he said Downing Street is their residence.

“This is a place of work but it’s also the residence of the prime minister and sometimes, as with many work situations particularly given the pressures that the Number 10 team are under they might have a drink after the formal business has ended," he told Sky News.

"That is not anything to do with the social mixing rules and it’s consistent with the guidance at the time."

Downing Street has insisted the gathering was within the rules.

“On May 15, 2020, the prime minister held a series of meetings throughout the afternoon, including briefly with the then health and care secretary and his team in the garden following a press conference," a spokesman said.

“The prime minister went to his residence shortly after 7pm. A small number of staff required to be in work remained in the Downing Street garden for part of the afternoon and evening.”

A representative told The Guardian: “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 after a No 10 press conference.

“Downing Street is the prime minister’s home as well as his workplace. The prime minister’s wife lives in No 10 and therefore also legitimately uses the garden.”

But after the photographs emerged, Ms Rayner tweeted: “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, Boris Johnson.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that to suggest the gathering was a business meeting “is a bit of a stretch by anybody’s analysis” and said Mr Johnson had “serious questions” to answer.

Laughing off the government’s reasoning, he told Sky News: “Just look at the photo and ask yourself is that a work meeting going on or is that a social event and I think the answer is pretty obvious”.

“All joking apart, during that period there were funerals of people where very few people could go and mourn those who had tragically died,” he added.

Human rights barrister Adam Wagner, who examines coronavirus regulations and interprets them on Twitter for the public, said he had seen the photo and was “doubtful it was against the law”, but may have been against guidance.

Mr Wagner said on Twitter that at the time outdoor gatherings were banned only in public places.

He said 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.

Mr Wagner said there was “no way of knowing from a pic that they weren’t working”.

Mr Johnson is reported to have told one aide that they deserved a drink for “beating back” coronavirus.

Some aides reportedly carried on drinking into the evening, although there was no suggestion Mr Johnson or Mr Hancock had any alcohol or stayed late.

The gathering is one of a number that have been reported across Whitehall during coronavirus restrictions.

Senior civil servant Sue Gray has been given the responsibility of investigating the reports after Cabinet Secretary Simon Case was removed from the probe.

It was revealed that Mr Case had known about a quiz held in his department.

Updated: December 20, 2021, 12:43 PM
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