Dominic Cummings has made a fresh allegation of a potentially lockdown-breaking party in Downing Street’s garden after a “senior No 10 official” invited people to “social distanced drinks” in May 2020.
The Whitehall investigation into claims of rule-breaching events as the nation social distanced to slow the spread of coronavirus was expanded on Friday after the accusation from Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser.
Cummings said he warned at the time the event “seemed to be against the rules and should not happen” but was told it went ahead after he was ignored.
He said that he wrote the warning in an email that could be discovered by senior civil servant Sue Gray as she investigates a string of allegations of rule-breaking parties in Downing Street.
‘Socially distanced drinks’
It was understood her investigation was expanded to include the new claim relating to May 20 2020, as well as the garden gathering five days earlier revealed by a leaked photo showing the Prime Minister and staff sat around cheese and wine during the first lockdown.
Gray replaced Cabinet Secretary Simon Case in leading the Whitehall investigation after allegations emerged of an event taking place within his own office.
In a lengthy blog post on Friday, Cummings insisted there was nothing “illegal or unethical” about the May 15 gathering.
But the Vote Leave veteran, who left Downing Street in November 2020 amid a bitter power struggle within No 10, wrote: “On Wednesday 20 May, the week after this photo, a senior No 10 official invited people to ‘socially distanced drinks’ in the garden.”
Cummings said he and at least one other special adviser “said that this seemed to be against the rules and should not happen”, adding that he issued the warning “in writing so Sue Gray can dig up the original email”.
“We were ignored. I was ill and went home to bed early that afternoon but am told this event definitely happened,” he continued.
“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.
“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’.
“Other than the 20 May, I’m not aware of events in No10 that ‘broke the rules’ while I was there.”
Cummings appeared in the photo leaked to the Guardian and dated May 15 2020. So did the Prime Minister, then fiancee Carrie and 17 staff members and Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds.
On the table in front of Johnson were bottles of wine and a cheeseboard.
Cummings wrote that they had been in meetings that day before “someone brought a bottle of wine out to the table. It may have been Martin 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.
“The scene on the terrace was in no sense a ‘party’ or ‘organised drinks’.”
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,” Cummings wrote.
But the former adviser blamed No 10 for giving the Cabinet member “duff lines” to deliver on the airwaves.
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.”