Boris Johnson’s former aide Dominic Cummings has claimed that a drinks event took place in the garden of 10 Downing Street on 20 May 2020, when certain Covid restrictions were still in place.
Mr Cummings rejected claims that a photo taken five days earlier showing him with Mr Johnson and wife Carrie along with several other people with wine glasses and bottles showed evidence of an after-work party, insisting it was common practice at the time for meetings to be held in the garden.
But he said that “partygate” inquiry chief Sue Gray should ask Downing Street staff about the 20 May event as part of her probe into social gatherings which allegedly broke coronavirus restrictions during the pandemic.
And he claimed that No 10 officials informed him that a number of rule-breaking parties took place with Mr Johnson’s knowledge in the period after he left Downing Street on 13 November 2020, including some in 2021.
Writing on his Substack blog, Mr Cummings said: “On Wednesday 20 May … a senior No 10 official invited people to ‘socially distanced drinks’ in the garden.
“I and at least one other spad (in writing so Sue Gray can dig up the original email and the warning) said that this seemed to be against the rules and should not happen.
“We were ignored. I was ill and went home to bed early that afternoon but am told this event definitely happened. In my opinion the official who organised this should anyway have been removed that summer because of his failures over Covid. I said this repeatedly to the PM.”
Ms Gray’s investigations into alleged rule-breaking parties in Downing Street have been expanded to include claims about events in the No 10 garden on 20 May 2020, it is understood.
On 20 May last year, England was just beginning to emerge from its first Covid lockdown, during which people were told not to leave their homes unless they had a “reasonable excuse” – such as being unable to work from home – and fines were imposed on those meeting outdoors with people from outside their households.
A week earlier, on 13 May, the first relaxations on permitted activities had come into place, allowing people to sit on park benches, to travel outside their immediate vicinity for exercise and to play sports with members of their own household.
But there was no mention of socialising with work colleagues being permitted.
Mr Cummings’ claims are the latest in a string of allegations relating to social gatherings which could have breached regulations in force at the time.
Ms Gray is already looking into claims including drinks in the PM’s flat on the evening of the former Vote Leave supremo’s resignation on 13 November 2020, a staff leaving event at which the PM allegedly spoke on 27 November, a Christmas quiz on 15 December and late-night staff drinks on 18 December.
But Mr Cummings insisted that there was no party on 27 November, when his close ally Cleo Watson left Downing Street.
And he said he was not aware of any social events before his departure, apart from the 20 May drinks, which broke Covid rules.
“I left on Friday 13 November 2020,” he said. “I was told at the time that there was a party in the PM’s flat the night I left and staff in the press office said they could hear the music playing loudly in the press office below (the press office is directly below the flat).”
He added: “If Sue Gray asks people who were there and they trust that the PM will never know they gave evidence to this effect, then probably some of them will tell her this.
“There was a small report at the time but obviously a) much of the lobby were ecstatic I had left and b) much of the lobby were getting many stories directly from the flat, outside proper channels (one of many sources of contention between the PM and me), therefore the story was buried.
“Officials I spoke to in 2021 said to me and others that there were various parties after I left and the PM was aware of them. I have also been told there are other photos of other parties against the rules in 2021, some picturing the PM.”
He added: “Officials I spoke to in 2021 said to me and others that there were various parties after I left and the PM was aware of them.
“I have also been told there are other photos of other parties against the rules in 2021, some picturing the PM.”
Mr Cummings said that junior staff should not bear the brunt of any disciplinary action over rule breaches.
“In my opinion it would not be fair for most officials who went to the garden for drinks on 20 May to be punished because, given the nature of the invitation, a junior official would be justified in thinking ‘This must somehow be within the rules or X would not have invited me’,” he wrote.
Ms Gray took over the inquiry into allegations of Covid breaches from cabinet secretary Simon Case, after he was forced to admit that a staff Christmas party had taken place in his own offices.
She is understood to be questioning No 10 officials and aides and no date has yet been announced for her report to be concluded.