Downing Street Garden photo: Dominic Cummings insists cheese and wine gathering was legal

Dominic Cummings, former chief adviser to Boris Johnson, said there was nothing “illegal” about the gathering in the Downing Street garden

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Dominic Cummings has insisted a gathering in the Downing Street garden where staff ate cheese and drank wine during the first lockdown did not break coronavirus rules and was not a party.

The former chief adviser to Boris Johnson insisted there was nothing “illegal or unethical” about the event by a leaked photo as No 10 came under intense criticism over alleged rule-breaking parties.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was among those pictured in the Downing Street Garden.Prime Minister Boris Johnson was among those pictured in the Downing Street Garden.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was among those pictured in the Downing Street Garden.

At a glance 5 key points:

  • The image taken on 15 May, 2020 showed Boris Johnson, his then-fiancee Carrie and 17 staff members in the garden
  • There were bottles of wine and a cheeseboard on the table
  • On the day the image was taken the Government warned people they could meet up with just one other person from another household in an outdoor, public place, so long as they remained 2m apart
  • Mr Cummings who was there, wrote in a blog that there was no party or organised drinks
  • The photo emerged after a series series of allegations against the prime minister and several other government figures that parties and gatherings were held in Downing Street

The image obtained by the Guardian showed the Prime Minister, then-fiancee Carrie and 17 staff members in the garden on 15 May 2020.

Mr Johnson, along with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard on a table in front of him, was sitting with Mr Cummings and principal private secretary Martin Reynolds.

What did Dominic Cummings say?

In a blog post, Mr Cummings wrote: “It is alleged by many that this shows ‘a party’, ‘rule breaking’ and so on. This is wrong.”

Following meetings that day, he said: “Someone brought a bottle of wine out to the table. It may have been Martin (Reynolds, who is Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary) but I think it was the PM himself who went inside as I was packing stuff up and brought out wine.

“We carried on chatting about Covid, about domestic priorities, and about how to sort out the Cabinet Office which had totally collapsed.

“Shortly after Carrie joined us.

“The scene on the terrace was in no sense a ‘party’ or ‘organised drinks’.

“Many meetings had been taking place in the garden all day.”

Dominic Cummings. Pic: Getty.Dominic Cummings. Pic: Getty.
Dominic Cummings. Pic: Getty.

What did he say about staff meeting in the garden?

Mr Cummings said that No 10 staff were “encouraged” to meet in the garden between April and August because it was “safer” during the pandemic.

He said Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab made the “obviously false” argument to the public that the photo was taken outside normal hours, arguing staff members often work past midnight on Fridays.

“Before, during and after Covid some of those working late on Fridays would have a drink at their desks or in the garden,” Mr Cummings wrote.

But the former adviser blamed No 10 for giving the Cabinet member “duff lines” to deliver on the airwaves.

Mr Cummings said: “There is no reasonable argument that No 10 staff having meetings in the garden throughout that summer was either illegal or unethical.

“It would have been extremely stupid to ban staff from the garden and make them all work inside.

“Nobody ever suggested that Covid rules meant that No 10 staff were forbidden from having a drink in the evening at their desk or while discussing work with colleagues they were sitting next to and/or working with all day.”

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