Downing Street: timeline of ‘No.10 party’ row - from Boris Johnson garden gathering to Christmas events 2020

The Prime Minister and some of his top officials are the subject of an inquiry by senior civil servant Sue Gray into the alleged parties

Boris Johnson might have hoped the Christmas break would bring an end to the Downing Street party saga.

But allegations that multiple parties took place in 10 Downing Street and other Government properties during 2020, when the rest of the country was under strict Covid restrictions, do not appear to be going away.

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Fresh claims have emerged this week that the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds invited 100 staff to what appeared to be a social gathering on 20 May 2020 - it is also alleged Boris and Carrie Johnson attended this event.

Meanwhile, it has also emerged another two parties took place in Downing Street in April 2021, when Covid restrictions banned indoor social mixing between households and the UK was in a period of mourning following the death of the Duke of Edinburgh.

The PM’s apology for the 20 May 2020 event and admission he attended it has led his own MPs to call for his resignation - however, his cabinet have stood by him and it appears he is determined to contest the next general election.

An inquiry into the events is now being conducted by senior civil servant Sue Gray.

Boris Johnson has faced criticism from all sides for his handling of Downing Street party allegations (image: AFP/Getty Images)

With so many allegations now out in the public domain, it can be hard to keep track of what claims about Downing Street parties have been made.

So NationalWorld has put together a timeline of the key events that are alleged to have taken place.

Here are the key dates in the 2020 Downing Street garden party scandal:

  • 23 March 2020 - A strict national lockdown is introduced into the UK to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. All “non-essential” high street businesses were closed and people were ordered to stay at home. You could only leave your home for an hour of exercise per day or for essential purposes, such as buying food
  • 10 May - People are allowed to go back to work if they are unable to work from home. However, they are told to avoid using public transport
  • 13 May - People were also permitted to leave home for outdoor recreation (beyond exercise) and could meet one other person outdoors
  • 15 May - Around 20 staff - including Boris and Carrie Johnson, as well as Dominic Cummings - attend the Downing Street garden for an event that included cheese and wine just hours after a press conference hosted by Matt Hancock saw the then-Health Secretary call on the public to “stay at home as much as is possible” and “stick with the rules, keep an eye on your family and don’t take risks”. After Number 10 denies a social gathering took place - instead calling it a “work meeting” - The Guardian publishes a photo of the alleged party
  • 20 May - Emails seen by ITV News in January 2022 show the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds invited 100 members of staff to “socially distanced drinks in the No10 garden”. Reynolds encouraged those attending to “bring your own booze”. Downing Street refuses to comment. 55 minutes before the event was supposed to have started, Cabinet Minister Oliver Dowden tells the public to “limit contact with other people” and said: “You can meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor, public place — provided that you stay two meters apart,” at a No. 10 press conference
Downing Street has repeatedly denied Christmas parties took place in No.10 in December 2020 (image: Getty Images)

Here’s a timeline of the key events in the Downing Street Christmas party scandal:

  • 10 December 2020 - Having just emerged from a month-long ‘firebreaker lockdown’ in November, London is in tier two of the Government’s three-tier Covid-19 system. Social mixing between households is banned indoors but the Department for Education holds a Christmas party in its cafe. The department apologises for event when it is revealed by the Daily Mirror
  • 16 December - A new Covid-19 variant, now known as Alpha, sees London moved under tier three restrictions - the highest level of restrictions at the time. The rules ban different households from mixing indoors and say people should remain at home
(graphic: Mark Hall)
  • 18 December - Downing Street staff are believed to have held a Christmas party, with reports that dozens of people were at the event. Some attendees were said to have worn festive jumpers and exchanged Secret Santa gifts
  • 22 December - The Prime Minister’s then-press secretary Allegra Stratton is filmed at a mock press conference answering questions about a Downing Street Christmas party. The footage did not emerge until 7 December 2021
  • 4 January 2021 - Boris Johnson announces third national lockdown after a rapid rise in cases of the Alpha Covid variant (previously known as the ‘Kent’ variant) threaten to overwhelm the NHS after thousands of hospital admissions
Allegra Stratton, Boris Johnson’s former press secretary, has been seen in leaked footage joking about an alleged party which took place in No.10 last year amid strict tier three restrictions. (Credit: Getty)

How the Downing Street Christmas party allegations emerged:

  • 1 December 2021 - The Daily Mirror breaks the story that numerous 2020 Christmas parties took place, saying “officials knocked back glasses of wine during a Christmas quiz and a Secret Santa while the rest of the country was forced to stay at home”. At PMQs that day, the Prime Minister insists “all guidance was followed completely”
  • 2 December - Business Minister George Freeman says: “I can absolutely assure you that No 10 staff followed the guidance,” adding: “I can’t get drawn into who was or wasn’t in the room and who was drinking which cocktail. You’ll understand I wasn’t there”
  • 3 December - Tory chairman Oliver Dowden says: “My focus has not been on having conversations about what may or may not have happened over a year ago in Downing Street. I have, however, been assured by what the Prime Minister has said, which is that the rules at all times were obeyed in Downing Street”
  • 4 December - The Metropolitan Police says it is considering the correspondence it had received in relation to the Christmas party and an earlier gathering in November 2020 which the PM reportedly attended
  • 5 December - Deputy PM Dominic Raab admits that if a party was held “of course that is something that is clearly contrary to the guidance”. But Mr Raab insisted he did not know the truth of the reports based on “unsubstantiated claims all on the basis of anonymous sources” and made his much-derided claim that police “don’t normally look back and investigate things that have taken place a year ago”
In evidence presented to MPs, a whistleblower has said then Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab ‘failed to grasp the situation' in Afghanistan (image: Getty Images)
  • 6 December - Policing Minister Kit Malthouse says: “I asked the question: ‘Were all the regulations complied with?’ I was reassured they were, I have to take that at face value. That’s absolutely what I’m sure is the case; it’s for others if they want to decide to take it further”
  • 7 December - Mr Johnson says: “I am satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times.” However, later that day the footage from 2020 of Allegra Stratton joking about the alleged party is leaked to ITV News.
  • Downing Street continues to deny that the party took place, saying: “There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times.” Meanwhile, the Met Police says the footage “will form part of our considerations” 
  • 8 December - At a raucous PMQs, the PM apologises for the video clip but not for the party itself. He said he had been assured that there was no party and no Covid rules were broken. Mr Johnson promises to launch an internal review into what happened in December 2020. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer says the allegations have undermined the PM’s credibility. The SNP calls for Mr Johnson’s resignation.
  • The Met Police announces it will not carry out an investigation. The force says there is an “absence of evidence” to launch a investigation into the claims. It comes after it had previously said that Covid breaches would not be investigated “retroactively”
  • 11 December - Allegations of a 25 November 2020 gathering emerge in The Times. According to the report, around two dozen civil servants who worked on the Autumn Spending Review attended drinks. The Treasury says there were “impromptu drinks around desks” and that the Chancellor Rishi Sunak was not in attendance
  • 12 December - Boris Johnson is pictured hosting a Downing Street Christmas quiz on 15 December 2020. Downing Street said the Prime Minister had “briefly” taken part “virtually” in the quiz. He was pictured in close proximity to two colleagues despite social mixing restrictions being in place.
  • 15 December - Former Conservative London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey resigns from his role in the London Assembly, after images emerge of a “raucous” party which took place at Conservative Party headquarters on 14 December 2020
  • The Daily Mirror reports staff attending the 15 December 2020 quiz were told to leave out the back door of Downing Street
  • 17 December - The UK’s most senior civil servant Simon Case is forced to resign from the inquiry into alleged Downing Street parties after accusations emerge he may have attended some of the events himself

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