The row over last year’s ‘illicit’ Downing Street Christmas party has rocked Westminster over the last week.
But it emerged yesterday that the December 18 event may have been only one of as many as six Whitehall bashes held in the run-up to Christmas – at a time when the country was under stringent Covid restrictions.
It was alleged there was a leaving do where the PM reportedly gave a speech, a quiz night and even a celebration in the Downing Street flat on the night Dominic Cummings left No10. There were also said to have been other parties in Whitehall departments and at Tory headquarters.
The ‘raucous’ dos, at which several officials were said to have been seen ‘rat-a**ed’ on copious amounts of wine, have certainly left Whitehall with a lasting hangover as the events are probed by the Cabinet Secretary and the Met Police.
Here the Mail details just what is known about what went on in Whitehall while the rest of Britain faced swingeing virus rules.
TABLE GROANING WITH BOTTLES OF WINE AND THE ‘CHRISTMAS PARTY’
At the end of the corridor that leads from the famous black door of 10 Downing Street it had become a tradition.
Every Friday, on a table in the hallway, No10 officials would place bottle of wines to be cracked open at the end of the day.
In the wood-panelled press office – once used as Gordon Brown’s ‘war room’ during his time as PM – staff would toast the end of the week with drink at their desks.
But yesterday Boris Johnson was forced to order Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to investigate allegations that on the final Friday before Christmas last year things got rather out of hand.
In WhatsApp messages and emails in the week leading up to December 18, staff had allegedly coordinated plans.
Alongside the impressive line-up of wine bottles, the table was groaning with party food including wheels of camembert cheese and crusty baguettes. In the grand room overlooking St James’s Park, where chandeliers hang from the ceiling, officials gathered to celebrate the end of a difficult year.
Boris Johnson was forced to order Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to investigate allegations that on the final Friday before Christmas last year things got rather out of hand
As many as 40 people attended the ‘unofficial’ Christmas bash with some wearing festive jumpers, it is claimed. Sources said most of those present were civil servants drawn from the press office and events teams, but special advisers – the PM’s political appointees – were also invited. According to one of those asked to go, staff were told to bring in Secret Santa presents.
As the night went on, officials from other parts of the building came down to join. But the Prime Minister’s press secretary yesterday insisted Mr Johnson was not one of them.
‘He was working all evening,’ she told reporters.
The event took place two days after London was placed into what was the highest tier of coronavirus restrictions at the time, meaning people were not allowed to mix indoors with anyone outside their household or support bubble.
At that time, the Government website stated: ‘Although there are exemptions for work purposes, you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier.’
Since news of the gathering broke last week, Mr Johnson and his ministers had steadfastly insisted that no party had taken place and no rules had been broken. But by yesterday the denials had become impossible to reconcile with the mounting evidence, after footage emerged of Allegra Stratton joking about what had happened.
THE ‘DOM’S GONE’ BASH IN PM’S No10 FLAT
A party is also alleged to have been held in the Prime Minister’s Downing Street flat on November 13 – the day that Dominic Cummings quit.
The festivities are said to have kicked off earlier, with the leaving do for Lee Cain, the Prime Minister’s departing director of communications. Mr Johnson is said to have given a speech at the event.
Cain resigned alongside Cummings after they clashed and ultimately lost in a battle for control with the PM’s now wife Carrie Symonds. This event is facing questions over whether it breached the rules.
However, the party is believed to have carried on upstairs that evening after Cummings unceremoniously walked out of Downing Street carrying a cardboard box.
A party is also alleged to have been held in the Prime Minister’s Downing Street flat on November 13 – the day that Dominic Cummings quit
The festivities are said to have kicked off earlier, with the leaving do for Lee Cain, the Prime Minister’s departing director of communications. Mr Johnson is said to have given a speech at the event
On social media yesterday, Mr Cummings asked if the Cabinet Secretary’s investigation into the Downing Street pre-Christmas bash would also look into the ‘flat party on Fri 13 Nov’ as well as ‘the other flat parties, and the flat’s “bubble” policy’.
The bubble reference is thought to refer to the decision to allow the PM’s then fiancee – and now wife – Carrie Symonds’ best friend Nimco Ali at No10 over the festive period ‘to help support and look after’ baby Wilfred.
Asked during Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday if a party took place on that date, Boris Johnson said: ‘No, but I’m sure that whatever happened the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.’
Mr Johnson shares the flat with Carrie and Wilfred. It was alleged there were ‘always parties’ in the flat, with a source claiming: ‘Carrie’s addicted to them.’
The party is believed to have carried on upstairs that evening after Cummings unceremoniously walked out of Downing Street carrying a cardboard box
Insiders yesterday claimed staff in the press office saw guests going up the nearby staircase to the flat on the evening of November 13 and could hear loud music coming from the flat which is directly above. ‘They were making the kind of racket that could only have come from a party,’ said one official.
The Mail has been given the names of as many as six current and former senior Government officials as well as other people known to be close to Mrs Johnson who were alleged to have been present. However, several fiercely denied the claims when approached yesterday.
But a spokesman for Mrs Johnson gave an emphatic denial, saying: ‘This is total nonsense. Mrs Johnson has followed coronavirus rules at all times and it is categorically untrue to suggest otherwise.’
The PM’s spokesman later confirmed that the alleged November 13 party would not be looked into.
Mr Cummings quit following a power struggle, and has since been highly critical of the Government.
‘CRAMMED CHEEK BY JOWL’ AT LEAVING DO
Up to 50 people packed into Downing Street for a leaving do on November 27 last year where Boris Johnson gave a speech for an outgoing aide, it is claimed.
No10 staff reportedly crammed ‘cheek by jowl’ into a medium-sized room in what was described as a ‘Covid nightmare’ – while England was in its second lockdown.
A source told the Daily Mail that the event had been an impromptu leaving do for Cleo Watson, an adviser who had effectively been Mr Cummings’ sidekick during his time in Downing Street. The aide is nicknamed the ‘gazelle’ because of her long legs.
‘It wasn’t a party as such, certainly not a Christmas party. It was a whole bunch of people who work in the same building coming together to say goodbye to a very popular member of staff,’ said the source.
‘Was drink taken? Yes. Did the PM drop in? Yes. Did people think they were doing anything wrong? No, but in hindsight it’s not a great look.’
A source told the Daily Mail that the event had been an impromptu leaving do for Cleo Watson (pictured with Cummings on December 17, 2019), an adviser who had effectively been Mr Cummings’ sidekick during his time in Downing Street
A BROKEN DOOR AS TORY STAFF PARTY ON AT HEADQUARTERS
Outside of the confines of Downing Street there have been reports of parties in government departments, as well as at Tory HQ.
The Times reported last night that advisers at Conservative campaign headquarters held an event with Shaun Bailey, the party’s unsuccessful candidate for mayor of London this May.
On December 14, with London in Tier 2 restrictions, about 25 people gathered in the basement of the party’s Matthew Parker St offices in Westminster.
Attendees at the ‘raucous’ bash are said to have worn ‘festive hats’ and danced and drank which resulted in a door being damaged.
Hours before the party Matt Hancock, the then Health Secretary, gave a press conference announcing that the capital would move into Tier 3.
A Conservative spokesman last night confirmed the ‘unauthorised social gathering in the basement of Matthew Parker Street’ and said that ‘formal disciplinary action was taken against the four CCHQ staff who were seconded to the Bailey campaign’.
It was reported last night that advisers at Conservative campaign headquarters held an event with Shaun Bailey, the party’s unsuccessful candidate for mayor of London, on December 14 while London was under Tier 2 restrictions
A FESTIVE QUIZ IN THE CABINET OFFICE
A Christmas quiz was reportedly held in the Cabinet Office for No10 staff at another point in December, although the specific date is not clear.
Emails were sent out to everyone in No10 inviting them to the quiz and to form teams, a source told the BBC.
Staff were said to have arrived at the office wearing Christmas jumpers ahead of the event, and were unaware ‘how ridiculous’ it was to hold a quiz while the country was in lockdown.
While some people joined the quiz via Zoom, the BBC reported that those who attended in person sat in groups of six.
One source said that Dan Rosenfield, the Prime Minister’s newly-appointed chief of staff, took part, telling The Times that ‘it was the first time many of us met him’.
Downing Street yesterday insisted the quiz was ‘virtual’.
A Christmas quiz was reportedly held in the Cabinet Office for No10 staff at some point in December, although the specific date is not clear
PS… DON’T FORGET WILLIAMSON’S PARTY
In the Department for Education’s canteen, then-Cabinet minister Gavin Williamson gathered officials for a Christmas party on December 10 last year.
Mr Williamson is said to have given a short speech at the ‘drinks and canapes’ event before officials ‘mingled’ and knocked back wine. One source described it as ‘reckless’.
Susan Acland-Hood, the permanent secretary, yesterday admitted that she attended the event where ‘drinks and snacks’ were served.
In an appearance before MPs, she told how around ‘two dozen’ people had joined the gathering that was instigated by the then education secretary as he wanted to ‘thank staff’ for their work during the pandemic. But she insisted ‘no outside guests’ were present.
When asked if it was an organised event, she said: ‘While this was a work-related gathering, looking back we accept it would have been better not to have gathered in this way at that particular time.’
A spokesman for the department said: ‘On December 10 2020 a gathering of colleagues who were already present at the office – and who had worked together throughout the pandemic, as they couldn’t work from home – took place in the DfE office building in London at a time when the city was subject to Tier 2 restrictions.’
Ex-Education Secretary Gavin Williamson threw a ‘drinks and canapes’ event in his former department while London was under Tier 2 restrictions on December 10 last year
The DfE did not deny the report by the publication, instead admitting that it ‘would have been better’ not to have held it while several parts of the country were banned from doing so