No 10 staff held regular ‘wine time Fridays’ during Covid rules
The weekly events are a “long-standing Downing Street tradition”, according to the Mirror, including under previous administrations, and are allegedly scheduled into the electronic calendars of around 50 members of staff in No 10 between 4pm and 7pm every Friday.
In fresh rule-breaking claims, these Friday night events reportedly continued while Covid rules banning indoor mixing between households were in place.
The newspaper said staff invested in a £142 drinks fridge to keep bottles of alcohol chilled, which was delivered through No 10’s back entrance on 11 December 2020, and that Boris Johnson was aware of the socialising.
At the time, London was under ‘Tier 2’ restrictions which prevented people from mixing with other households indoors, only six people from different households were permitted to mix outdoors, and those who could work from home were urged to do so.
The Mirror claims the Friday gatherings occasionally went on until midnight, with up to two dozen aides drinking wine and beer, and playing games such as Pictionary.
The newspaper claimed Mr Johnson attended a handful of the events when indoor socialising was banned, and is also said to have encouraged staff to "let off steam".
A No 10 spokeswoman said: “There is an ongoing investigation to establish the facts around the nature of gatherings, including attendance, setting and the purpose with reference to adherence to the guidance at the time.
“The findings will be made public in due course.”
The fresh allegations of rule-breaking in Downing Street come after the Prime Minister’s administration was forced to apologise to Buckingham Palace on Friday (14 January) after it emerged two staff parties were reportedly held on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.
Sue Gray, the senior civil servant investigating the litany of claims about lockdown parties in government, is said to have been “completely blindsided” by the latest revelations, The Times reported.
The newspaper said the official is concerned that No 10 staff are withholding information about parties from her after it was claimed on Friday that staff gathered after work for two events on 16 April 2021, which started separately and later merged.
Witnesses said alcohol was drunk and guests danced to music, with a person sent to a local shop with a suitcase to buy wine, according to The Telegraph, which first reported the allegations.
PM putting fightback plan in place
The Prime Minister is reportedly mounting a fightback after a tumultuous week, with The Times and Daily Telegraph both stating he has been in contact with Lynton Crosby, the political strategist who helped get elected as mayor of London.
Mr Johnson will look to move on from the so-called ‘partygate’ by lifting Plan B measures in England at the end of the month, the Telegraph reports.
The restrictions, which were put in place to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, are due to expire on 26 January, subject to a review.
Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove hinted that there could be sackings as part of a shake-up at the top of government, but rejected a suggestion that Mr Johnson should be one of those to go.
The Cabinet minister, referencing the need for Ms Gray’s inquiry to establish what went on, told ITV News: “If there is a specific need for disciplinary action or for responsibility to be taken, let’s do that, let’s do it quickly, but let’s also do it with all the facts in front of us.”