Police ‘liaising’ with Cabinet office probe over No10 ‘partygate’
Police are ‘liaising’ with Cabinet office probe as Boris REFUSES to say if he and Carrie attended BYOB party at No 10 – after leaked email PROVES they and 100 Downing Street staff were invited while general public could only meet one other person outdoors
Downing Street staff were invited to garden party at No10 during the first lockdown, according to email
An invite from the PM’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds told staff to bring their own drinks
He urged them to attend No10’s lavish grounds ‘to make the most of the lovely weather’ on May 20, 2020
At the time England was in the middle of the first lockdown, with such gatherings banned, even outside
The Met Police said they are ‘in contact with the Cabinet Office’ over reports of the drinks party
Bombshell email piles further pressure on an under-fire Boris Johnson as he battles a series of scandals
The Met Police are ‘liaising’ with a Cabinet Office investigation into alleged lockdown-busting parties at Downing Street during the first Covid lockdown.
A bombshell email leaked last night proved that Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds invited more than 100 staff to bring their own drinks to No10’s lavish gardens on May 20, 2020 to ‘make the most of the lovely weather’.
At the time, only two people were allowed to socialise outside while at least two metres apart under national Covid curbs.
On a visit to his constituency yesterday, Boris Johnson ducked questions about whether he attended the May 20 garden party, merely insisting it was a matter for Sue Gray, the senior official leading an investigation into allegations of lockdown-busting parties across Whitehall.
However, it is understood that around 40 staff met for drinks and food from 6pm that evening — including the PM and his wife Carrie. Mr Johnson’s ex-chief aide Dominic Cummings continues to claim that the couple were both there.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: ‘Boris Johnson has consistently shown that he has no regard for the rules he puts in place for the rest of us.’
Scotland Yard has now confirmed that they are now ‘in contact with the Cabinet Office’ over reports of the drinks party. The force is thought to be waiting to see if Ms Gray’s inquiry identifies rule-breaking before considering whether further action is needed, The Times reports.
A spokesman for the Met said: ‘The Metropolitan Police Service is aware of widespread reporting relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at Downing Street on May 20 2020 and is in contact with the Cabinet Office.’
On the day — May 20 — the force had told people they could have a picnic, exercise or do sport outside providing you are ‘on your own, with people you live with, or just you and one other person’.
Oliver Dowden, then the culture secretary, used a Downing Street press conference that day to remind the public they could ‘meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor, public place provided that you stay two metres apart’.
Mr Reynolds’s email said: ‘Hi all, 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!’.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey thundered: ‘This is yet more evidence that while the vast majority of people were sticking to the rules, those in No 10 were breaking them. To add insult to injury, on the very same day that the Culture Secretary said people could only meet in pairs outdoors, it seems Boris Johnson’s staff were holding a boozy party in Downing Street.’
Sir Ed added that Ms Gray’s inquiry ‘must interview Boris Johnson personally’ to get to the bottom of claims of Downing Street parties.
And Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, accused the PM of ‘sleaze and corruption’, and demanded he ‘come clean’.
Mr Johnson’s authority has come under serious challenge among backbenchers and Cabinet colleagues in recent months.
His government is fighting allegations that staff broke lockdown rules during the pandemic. In December, the PM insisted that a photo of a gathering in the No10 garden where staff were seen eating cheese and drinking wine from May 15, 2020 showed people ‘working’.
Another photo, obtained by the Sunday Mirror, showed Mr Johnson hosting a Christmas quiz in Downing Street in winter 2020.
The PM has also come under criticism for imposing restrictions including facemarks and Covid passes in response to the Omicron variant. It is understood that the issue sparked Lord Frost’s dramatic resignation last month.
In other Covid developments:
Data shows Covid infections in London have ticked up in under-30s since New Year’s Eve, but have started to fall in over-60s;
More NHS cancer patients will be treated in private hospitals under a deal struck with the sector to ‘safeguard’ against the staff absence crisis;
Clive Watson, chairman of the City Pub Group, questioned the continuing WFH guidance and said the review of measures is a ‘very good opportunity’ to change them;
Mr Johnson has insisted he and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are looking at ways of easing the cost of living crisis as the economy struggles to recover from Covid.
The Prime Minister’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds invited more than 100 staff to bring their own drinks to No10’s lavish gardens on May 20, 2020 to ‘make the most of the lovely weather’, an email leaked to ITV News shows
On a visit to his constituency, Boris Johnson ducked questions about whether he attended the May 20 garden party, merely insisting it was a matter for Sue Gray, the senior official leading an investigation into allegations of lockdown-busting parties across Whitehall
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie Johnson are photographed walking out of Oswald’s in Mayfair last Thursday
Carrie Johnson leaves Oswald’s private members’ club on Albemarle Street in Mayfair last Thursday night at about 9.30pm
Boris Johnson sits in a Range Rover after leaving Oswald’s private members’ club with his wife last Thursday evening
ITV News alleges that around 40 staff met for drinks and food from 6pm that evening — including the PM and his wife Carrie (pictured together at the Conservative Party Conference at the end of last year)
Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds (left) allegedly sent a ‘bring your own bottle’ email invitation
Behind the email: Top mandarin who runs Boris Johnson’s private office – for now
Martin Reynolds is the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary.
Questions had already been raised over his future after Dominic Cummings last week revealed he was behind the May 20, 2020 party.
But Downing Street denied reports he could be moved into a low profile senior diplomatic role, possibly at ambassador level.
Martin Reynolds (above), the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary, is expected to be moved after the Cabinet Office concludes its investigation into whether rules were broken at a series of No 10 gatherings during Covid lockdowns
Mr Reynolds was pictured sitting with the Prime Minister and Carrie Symonds at a ‘cheese and wine’ party held in the No10 garden on May 15, 2020.
Days later he sent the email to more that 100 people, inviting them out again for a cheeky midweek snifter.
Mr Cummings revealed the party on Friday in a blog, and claimed he warned colleagues at the time that the gathering broke lockdown rules and should not have gone ahead.
He said he wrote the warning in an email that could be discovered by senior civil servant Sue Gray, who is investigating the allegations that parties were held.
Barrister Adam Wagner, an expert on Covid regulations, said that on the basis of what was known, the gathering was ‘unlikely to be legal for attendees’.
He added: ‘Being outside the home was illegal at the time unless – the only potentially relevant exception – it was for the need to work. Socially distanced drinks and bring your own booze don’t sound like work.’
Several No 10 staff also appear to have issued warnings about the party at the time. The BBC reported that one aide responded to the invitation saying: ‘Um. Why is Martin encouraging a mass gathering in the garden?’ Another said: ‘Is this for real?’
The Sunday Times yesterday alleged that the PM and his wife attended an event after Mr Reynolds emailed officials with an invite adding ‘BYOB’, meaning bring your own bottle, or booze.
But speaking on a visit to his Uxbridge constituency, Mr Johnson told reporters: ‘All that, as you know, is the subject of a proper investigation by Sue Gray.’
Pressed on whether he had been interviewed by Ms Gray, he said: ‘All that is a subject for investigation by Sue Gray.’
Downing Street denied reports that Mr Reynolds is to be moved to another post following the claims. Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said he was staying in his current role, saying: ‘The Prime Minister has full confidence in his team. There is no change in that post.’
Miss Rayner said: ‘He is trying to get officials to take the fall for his own mistakes, but he sets the tone for the way Downing Street and the rest of government operates.
‘At the time this party took place, key workers on the frontline were working round the clock to keep us all safe, people suffered loneliness and loss in unimaginably tough circumstances and for the majority of the country our freedom was limited to a daily walk.’
Mr Blackford said the PM ‘has no moral authority left’ and urged Tory MPs to ‘remove him from power’.
‘Boris Johnson must come clean and admit whether he attended, or was aware of, this Covid rule-breaking party in his own back garden,’ the SNP’s Westminster leader said.
‘People will find it utterly outrageous that while the rest of us were banned from public gatherings, the most powerful people in the Tory Government were boozing up at No 10 Downing Street, proving yet again that it’s one rule for them and another for the rest of us.
‘Boris Johnson’s Tory Government is the most corrupt in decades. If the Prime Minister had a shred of integrity or an ounce of shame, he would have resigned many months ago. He has no moral authority left, and as he won’t go his Tory MPs have a duty to remove him from power.
‘Sleaze and corruption are endemic at Westminster. The only lasting solution is for Scotland to become an independent country and escape the broken Westminster system for good.’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the PM would have ‘very serious questions to answer’ if Ms Gray found he had attended one of the parties under investigation.
Asked whether Mr Johnson would have to resign, Sir Keir added: ‘We need to let the inquiry take its course, see what the findings are. The Prime Minister has insisted he broke no rules, so if the finding is that he did then he will obviously have very serious questions to answer.’
Allegations of that gathering, said to have been attended by 40 people, emerged this week when Mr Cummings said he had warned at the time the ‘socially distanced drinks’ would likely be against the rules and ‘should not happen’’
The ‘lockdown-busting parties’ that No10 is accused of holding during the pandemic
Sue Gray is investigating four alleged parties in 2020 which the PM is accused of attending:
May 15, 2020:
A photo leaked to The Guardian shows government staff including Mr Johnson, his wife Carrie, and ex-chief aide Dominic Cummings sitting in the Downing Street garden. They can be seen drinking wine and eating cheese. More than a dozen other people can be seen in the photo. No10 denied this was a party, insisting they were all ‘working’.
May 20, 2020:
A second garden party at No10 is alleged to have taken place. A bombshell email sent by the PM’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, appears to confirm this. ITV News reported that more than 100 government staff were invited to the outdoor party, and that around 40 people — including Mr and Mrs Johnson — attended. Crucially, Mr Reynolds told people to bring their own drinks. No10 has not yet responded to the email.
November 27, 2020:
The PM is accused of making a speech at a leaving do in Downing Street for Mr Cummings’s former aide Cleo Watson. Mr Johnson is said to have given a speech at a packed leaving do for Miss Watson, who left No10 to write an erotic political thriller about salacious goings-on in Westminster. At the time, Britain was in the grip of the second lockdown, with all indoor social gatherings banned unless they involved a single household bubble. The PM’s official spokesman did not deny the gathering had taken place but he said: ‘At all stages the rules have been followed.’ The PM’s press secretary added: ‘We don’t recognise this account, as we’ve said Covid rules have been followed at all times.’
December 15, 2020:
Pictures obtained by the Sunday Mirror show Mr Johnson on a TV screen flanked by colleagues, one draped in tinsel and another wearing a Santa hat, in the No10 library. A source claimed many staff were huddled by computers in their Downing Street offices, conferring on questions and drinking alcohol while the quiz was taking place. The Mirror said a message sent by No10’s head of HR on the night of the quiz advised that those who had stayed behind to take part ‘go out the back’ when they left. The paper also unearthed the team names used that night, including ‘Professor Quiz Whitty’, ‘Rebels without a Claus’, and ‘Hands, Face, First Place’.
But the Sunday Times’s front page report suggesting Mr Johnson himself was present will add to the seriousness of the claims.
The PM imposed England’s first Covid lockdown in March 2020, and it was not until June 1 that groups of up to six people were allowed to meet outdoors.
Ms Gray, a senior Cabinet Office official, also expanded her investigation to the May 15, 2020 garden gathering revealed by a leaked photo showing the PM and staff sitting around cheese and wine.
Mr Cummings, who was present in the picture, insisted in a blog post on Friday that there was nothing ‘illegal or unethical’ about that day, which he insisted was a staff meeting.
But the former Downing Street adviser wrote: ‘On Wednesday 20 May, the week after this photo, a senior No 10 official invited people to “socially distanced drinks” in the garden.’
Mr Cummings said he and at least one other special adviser ‘said that this seemed to be against the rules and should not happen’, adding that he issued the warning ‘in writing so Sue Gray can dig up the original email’.
‘We were ignored. I was ill and went home to bed early that afternoon but am told this event definitely happened,’ he continued.
It came as Covid infections in the UK fell again and hospitalisations stayed flat as pressure grew on the PM to release plans on how the country can safely live with the virus.
UK Health Security Agency bosses logged 142,224 positive tests, marking a week-on-week drop for the fifth day in a row. Infections in London — the first region to be battered by Omicron — plunged to their lowest levels in nearly a month, with rates now dropping in over-60s.
Another 77 deaths were registered within 28 days of testing positive, marking a 83 per cent rise on the figure last Monday. But that figure only covered fatalities in England due to the holiday, and the overall trend has barely risen ever since the ultra-transmissible variant took off.
Meanwhile, hospitalisations rose by just three per cent in a week, with the trend having finally flattened off after three weeks of steep increases. Rates in London fell again.
Both the government and NHS leaders are increasingly confident that Omicron will not overwhelm services, and even experts claimed that there was light at the end of the tunnel as ministers admitted Britain is on a path to ‘living with’ the virus.
MailOnline analysis shows daily Covid deaths are currently running at less than half the rate expected in a bad flu year, in another sign the UK is finally on the brink of beating the pandemic.
Dr David Nabarro, of the World Health Organisation, said coronavirus would pose a very difficult situation for the next three months ‘at least’ but insisted ‘we can see the end in sight’.
Meanwhile, Professor Graham Medley, No10’s chief modeller, warned Covid ‘can’t be an emergency forever’ as he said ‘Government decisions’ would need to be made about scrapping mass testing and vaccinations.
They are the latest scientists to suggest that Britain is moving into a new phase of the coronavirus crisis now that it appears increasingly likely the NHS will cope without restrictions.
Dr Clive Dix, the former chief of the UK’s vaccine taskforce, yesterday called for a return to a ‘new normality’ and for Covid to be treated like the flu.
Mr Johnson and his wife Carrie, with their daughter Romy and dog Dilyn at Chequers in December
To work out flu deaths, the UK Health Security Agency — formerly Public Health England — estimates them using a statistical model, which looks at the prevalence of flu and excess winter fatalities. The cumulative number of fatalities was estimated to be in the region of 15,000 in 2016/17, with about 300 people dying every day at the peak. In 2017/18, during the Aussie flu outbreak, a total of 22,000 people were killed by influenza, with in excess of 400 dying per day at the worst of the epidemic. But in 2018/19 just 4,000 were estimated to have died to the virus, with just tens of people dying per day at the peak
How flu and Covid compare to other leading causes of death: Cancer is the biggest killer, taking around 166,000 lives every year, followed by dementia and heart disease. Covid has killed More than 150,000 Britons since the pandemic took off but it is expected to settle down and become an endemic illness in the coming years
Government sends out 100,000 lateral flow tests to ease staffing crisis
Around 100,000 critical workers will receive bundles of lateral flow tests from today to use every 24 hours in a Government bid to protect key services amid deafening calls for a five-day isolation policy, now backed by the majority of the cabinet.
Food processing staff, border force officers, energy workers and air traffic controllers will be among those to receive the swabs, which had run out for members of the public online this morning.
One person tweeted this morning: ‘LFTs are like hens teeth. None available at my workplace, local pharmacy, any of the supermarket pharmacies, or online. What exactly are we supposed to do?’
Boris Johnson said last week the Government was ‘acting to protect critical national services, keep supply chains open and fortify our NHS to withstand the pressures ahead’.
Ministers hope the tests will ensure critical workers are not self-isolating unnecessarily and prevent outbreaks in workplaces.
There are also calls for routine testing to be scrapped to put an end to the self-isolation crisis plaguing businesses and vital services now that Omicron is causing little or no symptoms for most.
Writing in the Mail today, Professor Angus Dalgleish, an oncologist at St George’s University, said mass screening amounted to ‘national self-harm’.
Mr Johnson today admitted the Government is ‘looking at’ cutting the self-isolation period again, as he hailed the country’s ‘great progress’ against the fourth wave. But he also warned that the NHS is still under significant pressure and urged people to get booster jabs.
On a visit to a vaccine clinic in Uxbridge, he poured cold water on rumours that lateral flow tests may stop being free soon, saying they will stay ‘as long as necessary’.
And he tempered optimism by stressing that ministers will follow the ‘science’ on whether quarantine can be cut again from seven days without causing another deadly spike in infections.
In a round of interviews earlier, Housing Secretary Michael Gove said the UK is ‘moving to a situation’ where it is ‘possible to say we can live with Covid and that the pressure on the NHS and on vital public services is abating’.
However, he stressed ‘we are not there yet’ and dismissed complaints that dire warnings about the possibility of huge numbers of deaths had been ‘scaremongering’.
Mr Johnson is rumoured to be drawing up a fresh strategy for the transition away from restrictions, which would be implemented by March.
There is speculation that it could see lateral flow tests withdrawn for non-high risk situations as well as shorter isolation.
Tory MPs have already piled pressure on No10 to set out their vision for dealing with Covid, with business leaders saying the current curbs are ‘really, really tough’ on the hospitality sector.
Clive Watson, chairman of the City Pub Group, said: ‘Why do people who work in hospitals or work in retail go to work, but office workers are exempted from going to work?’
EXCLUSIVE: London’s New Year’s Omicron hangover: Covid infections tick up in under-30s … but have started to FALL in over-60s as hospitalisation rates continue to drop
London’s Covid outbreak may no longer be shrinking, according to official data which has prompted scientists to warn that the worst of the Omicroncrisis may not be over yet.
Infections in the capital have risen in under-60s as a whole since New Year’s Eve, with rates highest among adults in their 20s and 30s. Top experts fear they will likely keep creeping up because children have now gone back to school, giving the virus more opportunities to spread.
Simultaneously, cases appear to be dropping among the over-60s in a hopeful sign pressure could ease further on the NHS, with London’s hospitals already seeing a downturn in admissions.
But it’s not yet clear whether either trend is genuine or simply due to changes in the number of tests being carried out, with the proportion of people now swabbing positive for the coronavirus having fallen for the first time since Omicron took off.
Academics today warned that cases would inevitably rise in over-60s if the outbreak is generally growing among younger adults, warning that the true trajectory won’t become clear for another week or so.
The above graph shows infection rates in under-60s in London since late November. It reveals that while rates are highest in 20 to 35-year-olds, there has recently been an uptick among children and their parents
The above graph shows Covid cases among over-60s and under-60s in London. Cases have now plateaued in the younger age group in a sign that the worst of London’s Omicron crisis may not be over
Despite warning signs that the capital’s outbreak may not have peaked, London’s senior health official yesterday argued that outbreak peaked over the New Year period. Separate Covid surveillance data warned up to one in 10 Londoners were infected on New Year’s Eve.
Yesterday London recorded 16,493 cases, its lowest tally since mid-December. Its hospitalisations are also falling after peaking at half the level of last winter’s crisis.
But the numbers of critically ill patients has barely risen throughout the Omicron wave, which has given ministers confidence to stick to their ‘ride it out’ plan. Deaths are also flat and the mortality rate is dropping because of the ultra-infectious variant, experts say.
Nationally, Covid cases have fallen week-on-week over the last four days. But they are now highest in the North West and North East, in a sign these regions could soon face heavier pressures.
Archbishop of Canterbury urges people to have Covid jabs because Jesus said Christians should ‘love your neighbour as yourself’
The Archbishop of Canterbury has urged people to get vaccinated ‘to look after their neighbours’.
In a BBCRadio 4 interview, Rev Justin Welby said that while he is not in favour of compulsory jabs, he believes in encouraging rather than condemning those who have not yet had the vaccine.
Asked what society’s attitude to the unvaccinated should be, he told the Today programme: ‘I think we need to be encouraging rather than condemnatory, because condemning people doesn’t do much good, apart from anything else, but also it increases the general sense of anger that comes at a time of insecurity and fear and grief.
‘I think we need to be encouraging to people to look after their neighbours.’
He quoted Jesus as saying ‘love your neighbour as yourself’, and added: ‘So, if you do that, it seems to me you go and get vaccinated.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said that while he is not in favour of compulsory jabs, he believes in encouraging rather than condemning those who have not yet had the vaccine
‘I’d encourage people. I’m not personally in favour of compulsory vaccination by law, but I am very much in favour of encouraging people, of incentivising people to get vaccinated. It makes a difference. It’s not decisive, it’s not the whole story, but it’s an important part of the story.’
It is not the first time the archbishop has spoken out about the importance of Covid vaccines. He told an ITV interviewer in December he agreed that being vaccinated was ‘a moral issue’.
‘A lot of people won’t like that, but I think it is because it’s not about me and my rights,’ he said.
Why you DON’T need to panic about ‘Deltacron’: Scientists call for caution over reports of new variant – and say phenomenon is probably just down to sample contamination
‘Deltacron’ probably doesn’t exist, according to scientists who have called for calm over reports of a new Covid hybrid.
Researchers in Cyprus over the weekend claimed 25 patients had tested positive for a super-variant.
One academic claimed the samples he’d seen carried a similar genetic structure to Omicron— but also shared quirks seen with the Delta strain.
Dubbed ‘Deltacron’, news of the potential strain spread rapidly on social media.
But leading virologists have now poured cold water over the findings, insisting it is probably just a result of laboratory contamination.
They argued fragments of Delta samples may well have been leftover from previous sequencing, leading to the appearance of a new variant.
Pictured here are 3D images of the Omicron and Delta viruses. Omicron is nearly five times more mutated than Delta in terms of its spike proteins. While a crossbreeding of the two variants, called a recombination, is a technical possibility, other scientists say recent reports of Deltacron is ‘almost certainly’ the result of a lab contamination
Dr Jeffrey Barrett, director of the Covid Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, dismissed fears the two strains had merged. ‘This is almost certainly not a biological recombinant of the Delta and Omicron lineages,’ he said.
Dr Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious diseases physician who works with the World Health Organization, agreed that it most likely a lab error.
‘Deltacron is not real and is likely due to sequencing artifact (lab contamination of Omicron sequence fragments in a Delta specimen),’ she said.
‘Let’s not merge of names of infectious diseases and leave it to celebrity couples.’