Were there FOUR parties inside Downing Street?
Were there FOUR parties inside Downing Street? Claims of a festive quiz, Friday wine sessions and a bash to celebrate Dominic Cummings’ exit put even more pressure on under-fire Boris Johnson
- It emerged yesterday that the December 18 party may only have been one of four
- It is alleged there was a leaving do where the Prime Minister delivered a speech
- Also alleged a celebration was held in the Downing Street flat on the night Dominic Cummings left
The row over last year’s ‘illicit’ Downing Street Christmas party has rocked Westminster.
But it emerged yesterday that the December 18 event may have been only one of as many as four Downing Street bashes held in the run-up to Christmas – at a time when the country was under stringent Covid restrictions.
It was alleged there was a leaving do where the PM reportedly gave a speech, a quiz night and even a celebration in the Downing Street flat on the night Dominic Cummings left No10. There were also said to have been other parties in Whitehall departments.
Here John Stevens and Harriet Line detail just what is known about what went on inside Downing Street while the rest of Britain faced swingeing virus rules.
TABLE GROANING WITH BOTTLES OF WINE AND THE ‘CHRISTMAS PARTY’
At the end of the corridor that leads from the famous black door of 10 Downing Street it had become a tradition.
Every Friday, on a table in the hallway, No10 officials would place bottle of wines to be cracked open at the end of the day.
In the wood-panelled press office – once used as Gordon Brown’s ‘war room’ during his time as PM – staff would toast the end of the week with drink at their desks.
But yesterday Boris Johnson was forced to order Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to investigate allegations that on the final Friday before Christmas last year things got rather out of hand.
In WhatsApp messages and emails in the week leading up to December 18, staff had allegedly coordinated plans.
Alongside the impressive line-up of wine bottles, the table was groaning with party food including wheels of camembert cheese and crusty baguettes. In the grand room overlooking St James’s Park, where chandeliers hang from the ceiling, officials gathered to celebrate the end of a difficult year.
Boris Johnson was forced to order Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to investigate allegations that on the final Friday before Christmas last year things got rather out of hand
As many as 40 people attended the ‘unofficial’ Christmas bash with some wearing festive jumpers, it is claimed. Sources said most of those present were civil servants drawn from the press office and events teams, but special advisers – the PM’s political appointees – were also invited. According to one of those asked to go, staff were told to bring in Secret Santa presents.
As the night went on, officials from other parts of the building came down to join. But the Prime Minister’s press secretary yesterday insisted Mr Johnson was not one of them.
‘He was working all evening,’ she told reporters.
The event took place two days after London was placed into what was the highest tier of coronavirus restrictions at the time, meaning people were not allowed to mix indoors with anyone outside their household or support bubble.At that time, the Government website stated: ‘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.’
Since news of the gathering broke last week, Mr Johnson and his ministers had steadfastly insisted that no party had taken place and no rules had been broken. But by yesterday the denials had become impossible to reconcile with the mounting evidence, after footage emerged of Allegra Stratton joking about what had happened.
THE ‘DOM’S GONE’ BASH IN PM’S No10 FLAT
A party is also alleged to have been held in the Prime Minister’s Downing Street flat on November 13 – the day that Dominic Cummings quit. On social media yesterday, Mr Cummings asked if the Cabinet Secretary’s investigation into the Downing Street pre-Christmas bash would also look into the ‘flat party on Fri 13 Nov’ as well as ‘the other flat parties, and the flat’s “ bubble” policy’.
The bubble reference is thought to refer to the decision to allow the PM’s then fiancee – and now wife – Carrie Symonds’ best friend Nimco Ali at No10 over the festive period ‘to help support and look after’ baby Wilfred.
Asked during Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday if a party took place on that date, Boris Johnson said: ‘No, but I’m sure that whatever happened the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.’
Mr Johnson shares the flat with Carrie and Wilfred. It was alleged there were ‘always parties’ in the flat, with a source claiming: ‘Carrie’s addicted to them.’
A party is also alleged to have been held in the Prime Minister’s Downing Street flat on November 13 – the day that Dominic Cummings quit
Insiders yesterday claimed staff in the press office saw guests going up the nearby staircase to the flat on the evening of November 13 and could hear loud music coming from the flat which is directly above. ‘They were making the kind of racket that could only have come from a party,’ said one official.
The Mail has been given the names of as many as six current and former senior Government officials as well as other people known to be close to Mrs Johnson who were alleged to have been present. However, several fiercely denied the claims when approached yesterday.
But a spokesman for Mrs Johnson gave an emphatic denial, saying: ‘This is total nonsense. Mrs Johnson has followed coronavirus rules at all times and it is categorically untrue to suggest otherwise.’
The PM’s spokesman later confirmed that the alleged November 13 party would not be looked into.
Mr Cummings quit following a power struggle, and has since been highly critical of the Government.
‘CRAMMED CHEEK BY JOWL’ AT LEAVING DO
Up to 50 people packed into Downing Street for a leaving do on November 27 last year where Boris Johnson gave a speech for an outgoing aide, it is claimed.
No10 staff reportedly crammed ‘cheek by jowl’ into a medium-sized room in what was described as a ‘Covid nightmare’ – while England was in its second lockdown. A source told the Daily Mail that the event had been an impromptu leaving do for Cleo Watson, an adviser who had effectively been Mr Cummings’ sidekick during his time in Downing Street. The aide is nicknamed the ‘gazelle’ because of her long legs.
‘It wasn’t a party as such, certainly not a Christmas party. It was a whole bunch of people who work in the same building coming together to say goodbye to a very popular member of staff,’ said the source. ‘Was drink taken? Yes. Did the PM drop in? Yes. Did people think they were doing anything wrong? No, but in hindsight it’s not a great look.’
A source told the Daily Mail that the event had been an impromptu leaving do for Cleo Watson (pictured with Cummings on December 17, 2019), an adviser who had effectively been Mr Cummings’ sidekick during his time in Downing Street
A FESTIVE QUIZ IN THE CABINET OFFICE
A Christmas quiz was reportedly held in the Cabinet Office for No10 staff at some point in December, although the specific date is not clear. Emails were sent out to everyone in No10 inviting them to the quiz and to form teams, a source told the BBC.
Staff were said to have arrived at the office wearing Christmas jumpers ahead of the event, and were unaware ‘how ridiculous’ it was to hold a quiz while the country was in lockdown. While some people joined the quiz via Zoom, the BBC reported that those who attended in person sat in groups of six.
Downing Street yesterday insisted the quiz was ‘virtual’.
A Christmas quiz was reportedly held in the Cabinet Office for No10 staff at some point in December, although the specific date is not clear
PS… DON’T FORGET WILLIAMSON’S PARTY
IN the Department for Education’s canteen, Gavin Williamson gathered officials for a Christmas party on December 10 last year.
Susan Acland-Hood, the permanent secretary, yesterday admitted that she attended the event where ‘drinks and snacks’ were served.
In an appearance before MPs, she told how around ‘two dozen’ people had joined the gathering that was instigated by the then education secretary as he wanted to ‘thank staff’ for their work during the pandemic. But she insisted ‘no outside guests’ were present.
When asked if it was an organised event, she said: ‘While this was a work-related gathering, looking back we accept it would have been better not to have gathered in this way at that particular time.’
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