Revelations about lockdown parties in Westminster surfaced at the end of last year and caused national outrage. At the time, the official Covid death toll stood at almost 150,000. Thousands died alone, and their loved ones were faced with reports of Christmas quizzes, suitcases full of booze and wine and cheese enjoyed by those who made the rules.
Gray was tasked with investigating 16 events, 12 of which were subject to a police investigation. Boris Johnson, his wife Carrie Johnson, and Rishi Sunak all received fines – and the prime minister has faced serious pressure to resign.
Now, almost 30,000 Covid deaths on from the inquiry being launched, the full, 37-page report is out, giving a blow-by-blow account of the parties.
In her conclusion, Gray states: “The events that I investigated were attended by leaders in government. Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen. It is also the case that some of the more junior civil servants believed that their involvement in some of these events was permitted given the attendance of senior leaders.
“The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.”
The prime minister summed up his response in PMQs by saying Labour leader Keir Starmer should “recognise that when people are working very hard together day in, day out, that it can be difficult to draw the boundary between work and socialising”.
He may be forgetting that he himself drew the boundaries to stop people socialising, because there was a global pandemic.
We’ve rounded up the worst bits from the report for Johnson and his government.
‘Wine time Fridays’
Known as WTF to those in the know. This is said to pre-date the pandemic, but didn’t stop.
Tuesday’s BBC Panorama with Laura Kuenssberg had already revealed regular wine time Fridays took place, with insiders recalling “bottles lying around parts of the building, bins overflowing with rubbish and empties left on the table.”
Another described “dozens of staff crowded together, and parties going so late that, on occasion, some ended up staying in Downing Street all night.”
Requests to not be ‘walking around waving bottles of wine etc’
On May 20 2020 there was a gathering in the No.10 garden to “boost staff morale following a challenging period for staff”. Sue Gray found “some concerns were expressed about whether it was appropriate to hold the event”.
At the time, people could meet one other person outside. That was it.
Ahead of the party, a No.10 special adviser sent a message to Martin Reynolds – Johnson’s private secretary – saying: “Drinks this eve is a lovely idea so I’ve shared with the E & V team who are in the office. Just to flag that the press conference will probably be finishing around that time, so helpful if people can be mindful of that as speakers and cameras are leaving, not walking around waving bottles of wine etc”.
Martin Reynolds replied “Will do my best!….”
A No.10 director declined the invitation and told the investigation they had raised with either Martin Reynolds or his office that it was not a good idea.
The report found Lee Cain, the then No.10 communications director, also received the invitation. In response, he emailed Martin Reynolds, a No.10 official and Dominic Cummings on the day of the event, stating: “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.”
Gray adds that Cain says he subsequently spoke to Reynolds and advised him the event should be cancelled, a conversation Reynolds does not recall. Cummings has also said he too raised concerns, in writing. Gray has found no documentary evidence of this.
The event was later referenced by Reynolds in a message to a special adviser. He wrote: “Best of luck – a complete non story but better than them focusing on our drinks (which we seem to have got away with).”
Karaoke and vomiting
Another leaving do on June 18 2020, when England was in “step 2” of the roadmap, allowing people to leave home. Gatherings of two or more people indoors and more than six outdoors were still not allowed, though there was an exception for gatherings “reasonably necessary for work purposes”.
The party involved pizza and prosecco. Oh, and the government’s deputy cabinet secretary and director general for propriety and ethics, Helen MacNamara, brought along a karaoke machine which was set up in an adjoining office to the waiting room.
Gray writes: “The event lasted for a number of hours. There was excessive alcohol consumption by some individuals. One individual was sick. There was a minor altercation between two other individuals.
“The event broke up in stages with a few members of staff leaving from around 9pm and the last member of staff, who stayed to tidy up, leaving at 3.13am.”
A security guard was reportedly mocked for trying to break up the parties
Another line from Panorama was that a Downing Street security guard was mocked for attempting to break up the gatherings.
An insider said: “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.’
“People made fun of him because he was so worked up that this party was happening and it shouldn’t be happening.”
Gray reports that on December 18 2020 a gathering lasting several hours took place in the No.10 press office. Two days earlier, London had been put in “tier 3” lockdown restrictions, meaning indoor gatherings of two or more people from different households were banned. The government had also told people on November 30: “Although there are exemptions for work purposes, you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier.”
Anyway, between 20 and 45 people attended the party to “celebrate the end of year and Christmas”. The bash included a Secret Santa, a quiz, and and an awards ceremony. There was, unsurprisingly, alcohol and food.
The report adds: “At approximately 19.45 that evening, a panic alarm button was accidentally triggered by a member of staff. The custodians on duty responded, as did one of the police officers on No.10 door duty.
“They observed a large number of people in the area outside of the main press office and one individual giving a speech. Inside the press office a further 15-20 people were present. There was food and alcohol available which had been bought and brought in by staff. Some members of staff drank excessively. The event was crowded and noisy such that some people working elsewhere in the No.10 building that evening heard significant levels of noise coming from what they characterised as a ‘party’ in the press office.
A cleaner who worked the next morning said they had found red wine spilled on one wall and on a number of boxes of photocopier paper.
People who’d been drinking were told to leave No.10 via the back door
On April 16 2021 two leaving events took place in No.10, one for the director of communications, James Slack, and one for a No.10 official. At the time, England was in “step 2” restrictions. Businesses had opened but people were still not allowed to socialise.
Alcohol was available at both events, which lasted “for several hours”. Johnson was not there.
This is the party where a child’s swing was damaged in the No.10 garden. When people started to leave, Gray writes they “were encouraged by the custodian to use the rear exit of No.10”.
She adds: “Some individuals remained in the building and carried on drinking alcohol until the early hours. Exit logs indicate that some left after midnight and others between 1.45am and 2.45am. Two members of staff stayed later still, with one leaving at 3.11am and the last leaving at 4:20am.”
People were also told to leave “via the back exit” after an event on December 15 2020 – “in order to avoid staff being photographed by the press outside”.
Being rude to security and cleaning staff
This isn’t really about Partygate, but is worth including because it’s telling.
In her conclusion, Gray writes: “I found that some staff had witnessed or been subjected to behaviours at work which they had felt concerned about but at times felt unable to raise properly. I was made aware of multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff. This was unacceptable.”
She adds: “I am reassured to see that steps have since been taken to introduce more easily accessible means by which to raise concerns electronically, in person or online, including directly with the Permanent Secretary in No 10. I hope that this will truly embed a culture that welcomes and creates opportunities for challenge and speaking up at all levels.”