New 'Downing Street party photo' published

Staff said they thought the parties were condoned by Mr Johnson because he 'was grabbing a glass for himself'

Number 10 Downing Street in London. AP
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A photo that is claimed to show a UK government party during the national coronavirus lockdown has been published after insiders described chaotic gatherings at Downing Street.

The photo shows a man standing at a table with nine bottles of wine and prosecco, doughnuts and miniature cakes.

The Mirror newspaper claims it was taken at a gathering to mark the final briefing by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s former official spokesman, James Slack, on November 17, 2020 — during England’s second national coronavirus lockdown.

It said the event was allegedly attended by 30 to 40 staff and was not believed to have been investigated by Sue Gray or the Metropolitan Police.

Ms Gray’s full report into the Downing Street parties in Whitehall is expected to be published tomorrow.

“As part of their investigation. the Cabinet Office team were able to speak to No 10 staff to establish the facts on what happened during this period," a government spokesman said.

"Both they and the Met Police have had access to all information relevant to their investigations, including photographs.

“The Met have concluded their investigation and Sue Gray will publish her report shortly, at which point the prime minister will address Parliament in full.”

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said the force would “look into it” on Wednesday.

Mr Slack and Downing Street have previously apologised after it was reported that two gatherings, including his leaving party, took place inside No 10 on April 16, 2021, the day before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.

On Tuesday, the BBC’s Panorama broadcast a programme that showed three anonymous people describing in detail what they saw at regular rule-breaking events during coronavirus restrictions.

They said they felt the events were condoned by Mr Johnson because he “was grabbing a glass for himself”.

Party debris was left overnight for people arriving at work the next day to discover after staff crowded together and sat on each other’s laps at the parties, the guests said.

One said they felt they had the permission of the prime minister as he was not telling them to break up the scenes when returning to his flat.

“No, he wasn’t telling anybody that,” they said.

Mr Johnson was already under renewed pressure after images obtained by ITV News showed him raising a glass while surrounded by colleagues and bottles of wine.

Days after ordering England’s second national lockdown, the pictures showed the prime minister giving a toast for departing communications chief Lee Cain on November 13, 2020.

“There were about 30 people, if not more, in a room," one witness said.

"Everyone was stood shoulder to shoulder, some people on each other’s laps … one or two people.”

“Unforgivable” scenes were described at the April 16 party, which was called a “lively event … a general party with people dancing around”.

It became so loud that security guards told party-goers to go into the No 10 grounds.

“So everyone grabbed all the drinks, the food, everything, and went into the garden,” one source said.

“We all sat around the tables drinking. People stayed the night there.”

Boris Johnson apologises over lockdown fine

Screengrab taken from PA Video of Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivering a statement at his country residence Chequers, in Buckinghamshire, following the announcement that he and Chancellor Rishi Sunak will be fined as part of a police probe into allegations of lockdown parties held at Downing Street. Picture date: Tuesday April 12, 2022.

The insiders said the events were “every week”, with invitations for press office drinks listed in the diary as “Wine-Time Friday”.

A former official described often turning up at No 10 to find it “a mess”.

“There were bottles, empties, rubbish – in the bin, but overflowing – or indeed sometimes left on the table,” they said.

One said a Downing Street security guard, known as a custodian, was mocked when he tried to break up a party.

“I remember when a custodian tried to stop it all and he was just shaking his head in this party, being like ‘This shouldn’t be happening’,” they said.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner questioned “who will defend this rotten culture” and said the BBC report portrayed “Downing Street as a parallel universe”.

Chairman of the foreign affairs select committee and Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat told LBC it is “very difficult to have confidence in the government right now”.

Downing Street, asked about the insiders’ claims, said there was a limit to what it could say before the investigation by Ms Gray was submitted.

“I’ve certainly seen the report," said the prime minister’s official spokesman.

“You will appreciate, as I made clear this morning, that I can’t get into commenting on claims put forward given Sue Gray’s report has not been published yet.

“You will hear from the prime minister once that has happened, so I am limited in what I can say.”

Mr Johnson is due to address the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories on Wednesday.

He is expected to address the House of Commons and media after the Gray report is published.

Updated: May 25, 2022, 12:48 AM