Prime Minister Boris Johnson has apologised for attending a “bring your own booze” gathering at his official residence during Britain’s first coronavirus lockdown, and an internal inquiry is being carried out to establish the facts.
British media have reported that at least 11 gatherings took place at Johnson’s 10 Downing Street residence or in other government departments between May 2020 and April 2021, when COVID-19 rules limited how many people could meet socially.
Sue Gray, a senior civil servant, is leading an inquiry. She has not said when her findings will be published.
Below is a timeline of the party reports and what Johnson has said about them:
Nov. 30 – First lockdown Christmas party report
The Mirror newspaper reports that Christmas parties took place in government offices, including Johnson’s own in Downing Street, in December 2020, when such gatherings were banned.
Later media reports include a photo of Johnson hosting an online Christmas quiz for his staff, seated alongside an official draped in tinsel.
Dec. 1 – Johnson denial
Asked by the leader of the opposition Labour Party about reports of a December 2020 Christmas party at Downing Street, Johnson tells parliament: “All guidance was followed completely in No. 10.”
Dec. 7 – Video of staff joking about party
ITV News publishes a leaked video showing Johnson’s staff laughing and joking during a mock news conference over how to explain a gathering in Downing Street.
In the video, Allegra Stratton, then Johnson’s press secretary, says: “This fictional party was a business meeting, and it was not socially distanced.”
Dec. 8 – Johnson apologises, aide resigns
Johnson tells parliament: “I was also furious to see that clip. I apologise unreservedly for the offence that it has caused up and down the country, and I apologise for the impression that it gives.
“I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no COVID rules were broken… if those rules were broken, there will be disciplinary action for all those involved.”
Dec. 9 – Details of inquiry published
The government says Britain’s top civil servant, Simon Case, will lead an inquiry into three alleged gatherings.
“The primary purpose will be to establish swiftly a general understanding of the nature of the gatherings…,” it says.
The inquiry is broadened to cover further gatherings after additional media reports.
Dec. 17 – Lead investigator steps down
Case steps down after it is reported an event was held in his own office. The government says the investigation will be concluded by Gray.
Dec. 19 – Garden party photo published
The Guardian newspaper publishes a photograph of Johnson and more than a dozen others drinking wine in the Downing Street garden that it said was taken during lockdown on May 15, 2020.
Dec. 20 – Johnson says garden party was work
“Those were people at work talking about work,” Johnson told broadcasters when asked about the Guardian picture.
Jan. 10 – Party invitation from Johnson’s aide published
ITV publishes an email sent by Johnson’s Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds to over 100 Downing Street employees on May 20, 2020.
It read: “After what has been an incredibly busy period it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No10 garden this evening … Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!”
ITV said around 40 staff gathered in the garden, including Johnson and his partner Carrie, even though at the time social mixing between households was limited to two people outdoors.
Jan. 12 – PM says he attended lockdown gathering
Johnson tells parliament he attended a gathering on May 20, 2020, in the Downing Street garden and apologises.
“When I went into that garden… to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a work event,” he said. His press secretary says he did not see Reynolds’ email.
The Times newspaper cites Conservative lawmakers saying Johnson later told them he did not believe he had personally done anything wrong and said “we’re taking hits for something we don’t deserve”.
Jan. 13 – Police say they won’t investigate gatherings yet
British police say they will not investigate the gatherings held in Johnson’s residence unless Gray’s inquiry finds evidence of potential criminal offences.
Jan. 14 – Reports of further parties in April 2021
The Telegraph reports there were two drinks parties held inside Downing Street on April 16, 2021, as Queen Elizabeth mourned her husband, Prince Philip, and at a time when mixing indoors was banned for people from different households. Johnson was at his Chequers country residence that day, the paper said.
One of those parties was a leaving event for James Slack, a former director of communications, who apologises and says the gathering “should not have happened at the time that it did”.
Compiled by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Catherine Evans and Gareth Jones
Photo – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. EPA-EFE/WILL OLIVER