Was Prime Minister Boris Johnson breaking the law at a time when millions of Britons were observing Covid restrictions, with many forced to stay away from dying relatives?
An official probe is looking into at least seven occasions in 2020 when Johnson and his Downing Street staff are accused of partying in violation of lockdown rules.
Johnson has defended some as work gatherings, including in repeated statements to the House of Commons — which opposition lawmakers say now have been exposed as lies that make him unfit for office.
It is proving harder for the government to justify one event in May 2020 when a top aide invited staff to “bring your own booze” to social drinks in the garden.
Until Britain’s first lockdown was eased a month later, such a gathering would have breached the then law mandating that no more than two people from different households could meet outside work.
Here is a selective rundown of the “partygate” events under investigation by senior civil servant Sue Gray, along with other lockdown breaches by government figures:
– May 15, 2020: Johnson is pictured with wine and cheese alongside his now-wife Carrie and some 20 staff in the Downing Street garden, according to a leaked photograph reported by the Guardian last month.
– May 20, 2020: Johnson’s aide Martin Reynolds invites staff “to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No10 garden this evening”.
ITV News, which obtained the emailed invitation this week, said 40 staff ended up in the garden that evening, eating picnic food and drinking.
Johnson and Carrie both attended, according to several reports, despite some staffers expressing qualms that the gathering breached lockdown rules.
– May 22, 2020: The Daily Mirror and Guardian newspapers publish a joint investigation alleging Johnson’s then chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, had driven across the country a month earlier.
In an extraordinary news conference from the Downing Street garden, Cummings argues that he and his wife had come down with Covid and needed his parents in northeast England to provide childcare.
He says one side-trip was necessary to test his eyesight before the long drive back to London, intensifying public anger and incredulity at his actions. But Johnson stands by Cummings for months.
– November 13, 2020: Cummings is fired, and more recently he has alleged that a raucous party took place that night in Boris and Carrie Johnson’s Downing Street apartment.
England was then in a second lockdown, and such indoor gatherings forbidden.
– November 27, 2020: Johnson gives a speech at Downing Street drinks held for the departure of another aide. The Daily Mirror has reported that up to 50 people were crammed into a room.
– December 14, 2020: Plates of buffet food and plentiful drinks were on offer in a photograph revealed by The Times newspaper showing Conservative staff in festive mood at party headquarters.
The party says the gathering was “unauthorised” and has disciplined some of those present.
Its losing candidate for the 2021 London mayoral elections, Shaun Bailey, was in the group and has since quit a role in the city’s assembly.
At the time, London was in a regional “tier” of restrictions that had replaced the November lockdown, which banned indoor socialising.
– December 15, 2020: Johnson was photographed sitting between two staffers at a Number 10 Christmas quiz. He insists it was a work gathering.
– December 18, 2020: Another party was held in Downing Street, according to the Daily Mirror, prompting government denials.
But a video then obtained by ITV News showed Johnson’s then-press secretary Allegra Stratton joking about the event at a mock news conference. She later resigned, in a tearful public statement.
– June 26, 2021: Health Secretary Matt Hancock resigns after The Sun newspaper reveals video footage of him breaking coronavirus restrictions a month before, during an affair with a close female aide.
Johnson initially defended Hancock, who had repeatedly urged the public to abide by the restrictions after England entered a third lockdown in January 2021.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)