Boris Johnson began May 20 with a jog for his designated one-hour exercise and then gave a solemn address to the Commons about Covid deaths… before No 10’s notorious party kicked off later that evening.
The Prime Minister, speaking before Prime Ministers’ Questions, told of the toll the virus on the nation as he revealed the number of NHS and social care workers who had died had risen to 312.
Addressing members in the Commons, Mr Johnson acknowledged the social distancing rules that were in place which ‘we must all observe’ as the country was in lockdown.
At the time, only two people were allowed to socialise outside while at least two metres apart under England’s Covid curbs.
Yet around the same time as he addressed MPs, Downing Street staffers were getting ready to attend a lockdown-breaking party in the garden after his principle private secretary, Martin Reynolds, sent an email inviting 100 of them to attend.
The PM has so far dodged questions about whether he attended the event.
In contrast to the jollity at the heart of power, much of Britain was paralysed in a state of fear, with the country only two months into the first national lockdown and seven months away from the first vaccines being given to priority groups.
But amid the situation, a bombshell email has now revealed Mr Reynolds encouraged staff to ‘bring your own booze’ and ‘make the most of the lovely weather’ for a party on May 20, 2020.
The weather was very warm that day, with thousands of people seen enjoying beaches and parks across the country – but many were under the watchful eye of police, especially those on Portobello beach in Edinburgh.
But a Whitehall source said on the day that any decision on relaxing lockdown rules was ‘conditional on advice that we can move forward without a second spike’, adding: ‘We are not there yet.’
Boris Johnson was seen returning to Downing Street after a jog at about 7.30am on May 20, 2020 (left), before leaving No10 four hours later at 11.30am to go to Prime Minister’s Questions (left)
Boris Johnson speaks at the Commons as Matt Hancock watches during Prime Minister’s Questions at noon on May 20, 2020
A police officer speaks with two people enjoying the hot weather on Portobello beach in Edinburgh on May 20, 2020
Police at the Peterborough McDonald’s at lunchtime on May 20, 2020 after it reopened for drive-through customers
At No 10, witnesses said Mr Johnson and his wife Carrie attended the event along with up to 40 officials. Food and drink are said to have been laid out on long tables for an informal buffet – despite social distancing rules.
About ten days earlier the Government had launched a ‘Stay alert, control the virus, save lives’ campaign – and the party started less than an hour after the then culture secretary Oliver Dowden spoke at Downing Street.
Hundreds of Covid fines issued by police in week of Downing Street party
Hundreds of fines for breaking Covid laws were handed out by police in the week of the Downing Street garden party during England’s first lockdown.
Scotland Yard has said it is in contact with the Cabinet Office about the May 20 2020 allegations at Number 10.
There were 807 fixed penalty notices issued for breaches of Covid rules in England and Wales in the week between May 15 and May 21 2020, the latest data from the National Police Chiefs’ Council shows.
According to the figures, a total of 118,963 fines were processed by police between March 27 2020 and December 16 2021.
Coronavirus rules had changed a week before the party as the Government warned it was considering tougher enforcement measures for anyone flouting the rules.
Lockdown fines rose to £100 in England on May 13 2020 and could be issued to anyone believed to be breaching restrictions on movement amid the coronavirus outbreak.
While anyone found breaking the law would have had their first fine lowered to £50 if paid within 14 days, the penalty doubled for each repeat offence, up to a maximum of £3,200.
Existing legislation known as the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 was updated to reflect the changes.
At the same time the Government published a 50-page document setting out its Covid-19 recovery strategy for England which said it was ‘examining more stringent enforcement measures for non-compliance’.
The document said the higher fines ‘reflect the increased risk to others of breaking the rules as people are returning to work and school’.
Laws in force at the time still required people to have a reasonable excuse to leave their home, such as to buy food and medical supplies, and limited other exceptions such as attending a funeral, court, or legal proceedings and to ‘escape a risk of harm’.
Changes in the law also allowed people to collect orders from shops and other businesses which had been permitted to stay open or go to waste and recycling centres.
According to the legislation, people could only meet one other person from outside their own household at a time in a public space or for exercise.
Government ministers urged people not to visit relatives and friends in their own homes or gardens.
Guidance issued at the time said people would be able to spend time outdoors, other than just for exercise, as long as they were not meeting more than one person from outside their household, while observing social distancing measures by keeping two metres apart.
On the day in question, Mr Dowden warned the public in that press conference that they were allowed to meet only one person from another household outdoors and that they must remain two metres apart at all times.
Highlighting the Government’s Stay Alert campaign, Mr Dowden urged the public to limit contact with other people and keeping 2 metres apart.
He added: ‘If everyone stays alert and follows the rules, we can control coronavirus by keeping the R down and reducing the number of infections.’
Indoor socialising with other households was strictly banned and only two people were allowed to meet outside in a public space such as a park while at least 6ft (2m) apart.
There was an exemption on gatherings where ‘essential for work purposes’ – but guidance said workers should try to minimise all meetings and other gatherings in the workplace’. No10 has relied on the get-outs for work when responding to other claims about parties.
Britons were regularly washing their hands to stay safe and many mourners had to watch funerals from home on live-streams, with official guidance saying the only people allowed to attend were ‘members of the deceased person’s household and close family members’.
Some mothers were giving birth without partners, shoppers were queuing outside supermarkets which limited numbers of shoppers and others had vital medical appointments put back as hospitals struggled to cope with Covid-19 patients.
As for working from home, Mr Johnson said on May 10, 2020 that people should ‘work from home if you can, but you should go to work if you can’t work from home’ and also advised them to avoid public transport to maintain social distancing.
On May 20, 2020, there were 2,700 daily positive cases while the seven-day average stood at 2,328 – a number that was falling after hitting an average of 4,774 one month earlier.
There were also 268 deaths within 28 days of a positive test on May 20, 2020, with a seven-day average of 255. This was also down, from a peak of 976 on April 10.
As for the global picture, experts at Johns Hopkins University said at least 323,286 people were known to have died from Covid-19 while at least 4,897,567 had been infected.
And then-US president Donald Trump said having more cases in the US than any other country was a ‘badge of honour’, because it meant the US had ‘more testing than anybody else’.
In Britain, non-essential shops were shut and hospitality businesses remained closed, although a handful of fast food chains began reopening for takeaway on the day.
Photographs from the day show police patrolling a park in London to look for rule-breakers, and a group of swimmers in Edinburgh being broken up by officers.
May 20 also saw huge queues outside McDonald’s drive-thrus as 30 were reopened to the public from 11am.
The move led to police being called to a drive-thru branch of McDonald’s in Cambridgeshire after dozens of customers arrived when it opened.
Cars were queuing around the car park as customers rushed to get their hands on burgers, fries and milkshakes. There were similar scenes at a KFC in Coulby Newham, Middlesbrough.
Britons were also enjoying the warm weather at the time, with thousands of sun seekers photographed flocking to the iconic Durdle Door beach in Dorset on that day.
Dominic Cummings had already made his infamous 30-mile trip to Barnard Castle in County Durham to allegedly test his eyesight by this point, on April 12, although this was not revealed until newspaper reports about it on May 22.
Police speak to people on Portobello beach in Edinburgh on May 20, 2020 while tough restrictions remain in place
A heavy police presence in Wickham, Hampshire, on May 20, 2020 prevented a horse fair from taking place even unofficially
The coronavirus death toll graph is shown as it was up to and including May 20, 2020, when 268 deaths were recorded
On May 20, 2020, there were 2,700 daily positive cases while the seven-day average stood at 2,328
The coronavirus death toll graph is shown as it was up to and including May 20, 2020, when 268 deaths were recorded
This graphic shows the global Covid-19 picture as of May 20, 2020 – with Britain having recorded 249,000 cases at that point
Today, bereaved MPs wept in the Commons as they demanded answer on the ‘Partygate’ row after the leaked email showed Mr Johnson’s top civil servant invited 100 staff to the ‘BYOB’ bash.
About ten days earlier the Government had launched a ‘Stay alert, control the virus, save lives’ campaign
The PM was condemned for ducking an emotional showdown in the Commons following the emergence of the message from Mr Reynolds urging aides to ‘make the most of the lovely weather’ on May 20, 2020.
The email apparently caused shock among some of the recipients, who exchanged comments including ‘Why is Martin encouraging a mass gathering in the garden?’ and ‘Is this for real?’
At the time, only two people were allowed to socialise outside while at least two metres apart under England’s Covid curbs. There was an exemption for ‘essential work purposes’, but the guidance stated people should ‘minimise all meetings and other gatherings in the workplace’.
On a visit to his constituency yesterday, Mr Johnson ducked questions about whether he attended the gathering along with wife Carrie and 30-40 staff who feasted on drinks, crisps and sausage rolls – as has been claimed.
Instead he merely insisted it was a matter for Sue Gray, the senior official leading an investigation into allegations of lockdown-busting parties across Whitehall.
And Downing Street insisted today that Mr Reynolds ‘continues in his role’ and has the full confidence of the PM.
Mr Johnson was accused of going into ‘hiding’ after sending a junior minister to field an urgent question in the Commons this afternoon, rather than facing a grilling himself.
An Apple Mobility chart shows the number of people requesting directions from the Maps app dropped when the pandemic began. It then recovered in late 2020, then fell again at the start of 2021 during the third lockdown, before rebounding again
Thousands of people at Durdle Door beach in Dorset on May 20, 2020 make the most of the very warm weather that day
A packed car park at Durdle Door beach in Dorset on May 20, 2020 as sun seekers enjoyed the warm weather
People walk on a pathway next to Durdle Door beach in Dorset on May 20, 2020 as they enjoy the warm weather conditions
In highly-charged scenes, MPs including the DUP’s Jim Shannon and Labour’s Afzal Khan spoke emotionally about their own bereavements during the pandemic and called for clarity on what had happened in No10.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said Mr Johnson’s decision to swerve the confrontation – emulated by most Tory MPs – ‘speaks volumes’.
She said: ‘It is incredibly disappointing, but not unsurprising, that the Prime Minister of whom I asked this question is not here today despite not having any official engagements.
‘I think his absence speaks volumes as does his smirks on the media, the public have already drawn their own conclusions. He can run but he can’t hide.’
Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis apologised for ‘upset’ caused by the allegations – but insisted that everyone should wait for the investigation to conclude.
Scotland Yard has confirmed that they are now ‘in contact with the Cabinet Office’ over reports of the drinks event.
The force is thought to be waiting to see if Ms Gray’s inquiry identifies rule-breaking before considering whether further action is needed.
Two women enjoy a socially distanced drink on Wandsworth Common in South West London on May 20, 2020
People sit socially distanced on the beach in Brighton on May 20, 2020 to enjoy the warm and sunny weather
Two women relax in the park as they enjoy the hot weather in Sheffield on May 20, 2020
A spokesman for the Met said: ‘The Metropolitan Police Service is aware of widespread reporting relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at Downing Street on May 20 2020 and is in contact with the Cabinet Office.’
Lawyers have suggested the premier being there might not have broken the law at the time, as it was technically his garden.
The raging ‘Partygate’ row was not even mentioned at Cabinet this morning, according to No10.
But bereaved families vented fury and accused Mr Johnson of ‘smirking’ rather than answering the allegations.
And Labour leader Keir Starmer said: ‘Boris Johnson, your deflections and distractions are absurd. Not only did you know about the parties in Downing Street, you attended them.
Queues at a McDonald’s in Peterborough after it opened for drive-through customers on May 20, 2020
Cars queue at the McDonald’s drive-through in Hounslow as the firm reopened three outlets in London on May 20, 2020
A backlog of cars at a KFC outlet in Middlesbrough on May 20, 2020 after it opened for drive-through customers
‘Stop lying to the British public. It’s time to finally come clean.’
There are growing signs of disquiet among senior Tories at the hypocrisy and evasive responses from the government. It is unclear how soon Ms Gray – who has a fierce reputation in Whitehall – is set to deliver her findings.
Health minister Edward Argar said in a round of interviews this morning that he understood the public’s ‘anger’ at the allegations, and stressed that he personally had not been at any drinks bashes in May 2020 as he was ‘glued to Zoom’.
Meanwhile, Theresa May’s former chief of staff Lord Barwell swiped: ‘Let me put this politely: it is not *entirely clear* why the Prime Minister needs to wait for Sue Gray’s report to find out if he went to a party in his own garden.’
And former Scottish Tory leader Baroness Davidson said: ‘Nobody needs an official to tell them if they were at a boozy shindig in their own garden.
Then culture secretary Oliver Dowden warned the public in a press conference on May 20, 2020 that they were allowed to meet only one person from another household outdoors and that they must remain two metres apart at all times
Dominic Cummings is pictured on May 20, 2020 at No 10. He had already made his infamous 30-mile trip to Barnard Castle to allegedly test his eyesight by this point, on April 12, although this was not revealed until reports about it on May 22
‘People are (rightly) furious. They sacrificed so much – visiting sick or grieving relatives, funerals. What tf were any of these people thinking?’
Tory mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street said the revelations were ‘unbelievable’ and demanded to know if Mr Johnson was at the gathering.
One aide told MailOnline they would not have attended any such event at the time because they are ‘not stupid’.
Another said the situation ‘really isn’t looking good’. ‘He has to find a new scapegoat now. Reynolds alone won’t be enough.’
They also pointed to a wider problem of trust in the PM, with polls showing his personal ratings plunging.