New ‘Downing Street party’ photograph published ahead of Sue Gray report

The Mirror newspaper claims it was taken at a gathering on November 17 2020.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson

A photograph which has been claimed to show a new lockdown-busting Downing Street party has been published after insiders described chaotic gatherings inside Number 10 during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Mirror has obtained a picture showing a man standing at a table with nine bottles of wine and prosecco as well as doughnuts and miniature cakes.

The newspaper claims it was taken at a gathering to mark the final press briefing by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s former official spokesman James Slack on November 17 2020, during England’s second national coronavirus lockdown.

It added that the event was allegedly attended by 30 to 40 staff and was not believed to have been investigated by Sue Gray or the Metropolitan Police.

Coronavirus – Thu Nov 26, 2020
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing on coronavirus in Downing Street in November 2020

The new image comes the day before Ms Gray’s full report into the Downing Street parties in Whitehall is expected to be published.

A No 10 spokesperson said: “As part of their investigation the Cabinet Office team were able to speak to No 10 staff to establish the facts on what happened during this period. Both they and the Met Police have had access to all information relevant to their investigations, including photographs.

“The Met have concluded their investigation and Sue Gray will publish her report shortly, at which point the Prime Minister will address Parliament in full.”

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said the force would “look into it” on Wednesday.

Both Mr Slack and Downing Street previously apologised after it was reported two gatherings – including a leaving do for Mr Slack – took place inside No 10 on April 16 2021, the day before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.

On Tuesday, the BBC’s Panorama broadcast a programme which showed three anonymous individuals describing in detail what they witnessed at regular rule-breaking events during coronavirus restrictions.

They said they felt they were condoned by Mr Johnson as he “was grabbing a glass for himself”.

Party debris was left overnight for people arriving at work the next day to discover after staff crowded together and sat on each other’s laps at parties, according to the attendees.

One said they felt they had the permission of the Prime Minister as he was not telling them to break up the scenes when returning to his flat.

November lockdown in London
New Bond Street in London is seen empty on November 17 2020 during England’s four-week national lockdown (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“No, he wasn’t telling anybody that. He was grabbing a glass for himself,” they said.

Mr Johnson was already under renewed pressure after images obtained by ITV News showed him raising a glass while surrounded by colleagues and bottles of wine.

Days after ordering England’s second national lockdown, the pictures showed the Prime Minister giving a toast for departing communications chief Lee Cain on November 13 2020.

One witness described the party that night: “There were about 30 people, if not more, in a room. Everyone was stood shoulder to shoulder, some people on each other’s laps … one or two people.”

“Unforgivable” scenes were described at the April 16 party, which was described as a “lively event… a general party with people dancing around” that became so loud that security guards told them to go into the No 10 grounds.

“So everyone grabbed all the drinks, the food, everything, and went into the garden,” one source said.

“We all sat around the tables drinking. People stayed the night there.”

The insiders said the events were “every week”, with invitations for press office drinks listed in the diary as “Wine-Time Friday”.

One former official described often turning up at No 10 to find it “a mess”.

“There were bottles, empties, rubbish – in the bin, but overflowing – or indeed sometimes left on the table,” they said.

Downing Street partygate
A police officer outside 10 Downing Street (Yui Mok/PA)

One said a Downing Street security guard, known as a custodian, was mocked when he tried to break up a party.

“I remember when a custodian tried to stop it all and he was just shaking his head in this party, being like ‘This shouldn’t be happening’,” they said.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner questioned “who will defend this rotten culture” as she suggested the BBC report portrays “Downing Street as a parallel universe”.

Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat told LBC it is “very difficult to have confidence in the Government right now”.

Downing Street, asked about the insiders’ claims, said there was a limit to what it could say before the investigation by Ms Gray has been submitted.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I’ve certainly seen the report.

“You will appreciate, as I made clear this morning, that I can’t get into commenting on claims put forward given Sue Gray’s report has not been published yet.

“You will hear from the Prime Minister once that has happened, so I am limited in what I can say.”

Mr Johnson is scheduled to address the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories on Wednesday.

He is expected to address the Commons and a Downing Street press conference after the Gray report is published.

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