The sprawl of alleged Covid rule-breaking parties across Westminster last Christmas is widening, as the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, placed 10 Downing Street and the Department for Education under investigation over alleged “gatherings”.
Civil servants and political staff at the two locations will be questioned over who attended, exactly where and for what purpose. But there are reports of other events that are not part of Case’s inquiry.
This is what is claimed to have happened, and where.
map of alleged parties around Whitehall
No 10 Downing Street
At least two parties are being investigated by Case that took place in 10 Downing Street – the office where the prime minister and his staff worked throughout the pandemic.
Johnson is known to have attended the first event, on 27 November, which sources claimed was an impromptu leaving do for an aide, Cleo Watson.
The prime minister remarked on how crowded the room was, and then made a short speech paying tribute to her, before leaving to continue working.
But Dominic Cummings, who had left as the PM’s senior adviser earlier that month, said that it was a “red herring” to refer to the event as a party because an outgoing staff member had simply walked to the press office to say a final goodbye and Johnson “bumbled in and started babbling”.
“Everyone embarrassed, dispersed,” Cummings insisted.
The other gathering under investigation in No 10 was on 18 December, when London was under tier 2 restrictions – meaning indoor social mixing between households was banned. Officials and political staff had cheese and wine and reportedly swapped secret Santa presents at an event that went on late into the evening. Reports have said that Jack Doyle, the then deputy director of communications and now head of press of at No 10, gave out awards to staff during the evening.
The party was explicitly referred to by Allegra Stratton, the prime minister’s then spokeswoman, and No 10’s head of broadcast, Ed Oldfield, in a mock press conference that took place four days later but only came to light because of leaked footage this week.
Department for Education
Also in the run-up to Christmas, Gavin Williamson, who at the time was education secretary, held drinks in his department for staff on 10 December.
In a possible contravention of social distancing rules at the time, the department’s most senior civil servant, Susan Acland-Hood, said she attended the “work-related” gathering in which people congregated in the canteen for Williamson to “say a few words” to thank staff.
Acland-Hood said that about 24 staff of mixed seniority were present.
11 Downing Street
Not being formally investigated by Case is a gathering reported to have taken place in the flat used by Boris Johnson and his family on 13 November – also during England’s second lockdown.
The Mail On Sunday said a “victory party” took place after Cummings left Downing Street carrying his belongings in a cardboard box. Tensions between Cummings and Carrie Johnson were well known, but her allies denied to the same newspaper that there was any kind of “boisterous celebration”.
Deep inside the Cabinet Office, No 10 and other government staff were reported to have congregated for a Christmas quiz. The date is not known but it happened in December.
While some people tuned in virtually, others apparently wore Christmas jumpers and attended in person, being split up into groups of six.
The base for their gathering was said to be the “control centre” spearheaded by Cummings.
Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ)
Less than a mile away from Whitehall, Tory staffers also congregated in the basement of their party headquarters, which was being occupied by the campaign team of the Conservative London mayoral candidate, Shaun Bailey.
About two dozen staff were present, including one who now works for No 10, and initial reports said it was “raucous”, with a door broken during the celebrations.
Bailey, a keen Lego fan, was given a kit of the plastic blocks as a present by staff.
Attendees brought food and drink, and danced. But CCHQ bosses were said to be furious the following day, and members of Bailey’s campaign team who were at the party were temporarily barred from the building as punishment.
The event took place on 14 December – the same day it was announced London would be going into tier 3 and even tougher restrictions on socialising.