The report explores 16 rallies that took place from May 2020 to April 2021 and, for the first time, details evidence of a breach of the rules at the highest levels of government in allowing questionable events to take place in Downing Street when the rest of Britain was under lockdown.
A pattern of alcohol-fueled parties in Downing Street were also described in the report – some involving karaoke, music and dozens of people – even as the general public was told not to congregate with people from other households, including relatives. At the time, hospitals and nursing homes also discouraged or banned visitors, and funerals were only permitted with very limited attendance.
The details of the parties reflected what Ms Gray’s inquiry called ‘failures of leadership and judgment at No 10 and the Cabinet Office’. Photographs of the rallies, as well as emails, messages and accounts from the parties were also included in the report.
A party on June 18, 2020 in Downing Street and the Cabinet Office at 70 Whitehall, for example, involved speeches, booze, food and music. At least one person got sick and there was at least one fight; the last member of staff did not leave until after 3am
The party, which took place in two stages, included more than 25 people who had gathered to say goodbye to a departing colleague and featured speeches in the Cabinet Room. Dominic Cummings, special adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson; and Simon Case, the Permanent Secretary for Covid and Pandemic Response, attended this event.
A series of other holidays, around Christmas 2020, have also come into the spotlight, revealing cases of more drunkenness in government offices.
One of the parties, December 18, 2020, was a planned hour-long event at the Downing Street press office, with 20-45 people gathering to celebrate Christmas and the end of the year. The gathering included a Secret Santa game, awards ceremony, alcohol and food. According to the report, “some staff drank excessively. The event was crowded and noisy,” with staff members staying until after midnight. A cleaner quoted in the report described spilled red wine on the floor.
At the time, gatherings of two or more people from different households were prohibited. A few weeks later, on January 14, 2021, with the same restrictions in place, a farewell event for two officials in Downing Street took place. It involved alcohol and Mr Johnson attended for a short time to deliver a speech, while others stayed late into the evening.
Two more rallies took place in Downing Street on April 16. By then, restrictions had eased slightly, but non-business gatherings of two or more households indoors or six outdoors were still banned. Both events lasted for hours, according to the report, in the presence of senior officials, although Mr Johnson was not there.
“A number of those present drank excessively,” the report added. After more than 20 people moved outside, still drinking, they damaged a children’s play set and the last staff left after 4am.
Emails and messages detailed in the report showed that some people had expressed reservations about the gathering while the restrictions were in place. But others seemed to simply ignore the warnings as they exchanged party invitations.
The report included a series of emails sent ahead of a rally on May 20, 2020, organized by officials to boost morale and attended by 30-40 staff in the garden of 10 Downing Street.
Lee Cain, who was then director of communications in Mr Johnson’s office, received an invitation and sent a response back to other officials saying: “I’m sure everything will be fine – and I applaud the gesture – but an invitation to 200 people for a drink in the garden of No 10 is a bit of a communication risk in the current environment. According to the report, his concerns and those raised by other senior staff were ignored.
Mr Johnson attended the May 20 party for around 30 minutes, according to the report. Later, his then-Principal Private Secretary, Martin Reynolds, texted another adviser in a news media message that said, “better than them focusing on our drinks (which we seem to be rid of).”