Can Johnson really claim he didn’t know Downing Street parties he attended were illegal?

Boozy Johnson: this is not an image of him at the Downing Street garden party on May 20, 2020 (it was actually taken in 2019) but it serves to suggest his behaviour there quite adequately.

The easy answer to the question in the headline is: no, he should have known his parties broke the law.

I say “his” parties because they were parties at 10 Downing Street, his home and place of work, taking place directly under his nose and that he attended in many instances. They were part of a “party culture” created during his watch.

And I say he should have known they broke the law because he announced to all of us what the law was – and it didn’t allow for social gatherings in a work setting, by the way. Furthermore, evidence in the Sue Gray report shows that his aides certainly did know that these events were legally questionable because they took steps to prevent the press from finding out about them.

Let’s discuss the party in the Downing Street garden on the evening of May 20, 2020 when Covid-19 regulations stated that “participating in a gathering of more than two persons in public was prohibited except where the gathering was ‘essential for work purposes'”, but had been amended to allow “meetings outdoors for exercise or recreation with one person from another household”.

Clearly an after-hours drinks event in the garden of 10 Downing Street, with more than 200 people invited to socialise with each other – even if socially-distanced – would have been a flagrant breach of these regulations.

It would have been a gathering of more than two persons in public that was not essential for work purposes, and it would have been a meeting outdoors between multiple people from more than one other household.

This did not stop Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, from advertising it by email, while other officials requested that tables be put out by the “Internal Events” team – which This Writer would have thought clearly marks this out as an illegal social occasion.

Alcohol was available at the event – both supplied by officials and also via a request for attendees to “Bring your own booze!”

In total, around 200 staff were invited although it is believed attendance was around 40 – still a massive breach of the regulations at the time.

Here’s the punchline: those arranging the event – including Reynolds – knew it was against the rules because they went to lengths to hide it from members of the media who attended a press conference just before it was due to take place.

According to the Gray Report, a Number 10 special advisor sent this message to Reynolds:

Just to flag that the press conference will probably be finishing around that time, so helpful if people can be mindful of that as speakers and cameras are leaving, not walking around waving bottles of wine etc”.

Martin Reynolds replied:

“Will do my best!….”

The report continues:

A No 10 Director declined the invitation and told the investigation that they had raised with either Martin Reynolds or his office that it was not a good idea.

Lee Cain, the then No 10 Director of Communications (a special adviser), also
received the invitation. In response, he emailed Martin Reynolds, No 10 official (1),
and Dominic Cummings at 14.35 on 20 May 2020 stating: “I’m sure it will be fine –
and I applaud the gesture – but a 200 odd person invitation for drinks in the garden
of no 10 is somewhat of a comms risk in the current environment.” Lee Cain says
he subsequently spoke to Martin Reynolds and advised him that the event should
be cancelled. Martin Reynolds does not recall any such conversation. In addition,
Dominic Cummings has also said that he too raised concerns, in writing. We have
not found any documentary evidence of this.

Referring to the event itself, it is clear that – once again – Boris Johnson attended and participated fully:

The Prime Minister attended at approximately 18.00 for around 30 minutes to thank staff before returning to his office with Martin Reynolds for a meeting at 18.30.

So he was there with Martin Reynolds, who knew it was an illegal gathering. He should have known himself that it was an illegal gathering, being the government representative who had explained the rules to the rest of us. But he not only allowed it to happen but attended and spent 30 minutes with the 40 staff there.

The excuse that he only stopped by to thank staff for their work during the Covid crisis doesn’t make sense because it does not take 30 minutes to make a brief speech of thanks. It seems clear that Johnson was himself socialising with staff, adding his own household to all the others that should not have been mixing at that time, according to the rules that he had put in place.

How strange that the Metropolitan Police who investigated this event, and must have known that it was an illegal party attended by the prime minister, chose not to fine him for this flagrant law-breaking! How convenient for them that their Acting Commissioner was able to dismiss this omission simply by declaring that, as far as he was concerned, all the decisions were above-board!

Reynolds, who subsequently had a meeting with Johnson inside 10 Downing Street, sent a WhatsApp message to a special advisor later in the evening, which appears to be about a story in the press:

[Martin Reynolds] [19:36] “Best of luck – a complete non story but better than them focusing on our drinks (which we seem to have got away with).”

In the light of all this evidence, it is not credible for Boris Johnson to claim that he had not fallen foul of rules in the Ministerial Code because he had not broken the law on purpose.

He should have known himself that the event broke his rules because he was the one who laid them down for us all.

His principal private secretary certainly knew that the event broke Johnson’s own rules, and attended the event with Johnson. Considering the contents of his electronic correspondence, it seems extremely unlikely that he did not mention to Johnson that the event was illegal.

Also, if the event was not against the rules, why was everybody involved so tight-lipped about it, to the point of hiding it from the media?

And this is just one of many such parties.

It doesn’t matter what Johnson says – the evidence exposes him as a liar.

Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.

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