WITH reports of regular boozy parties, suitcases stuffed with alcohol and a dedicated wine fridge, the emerging picture of life at Downing Street during the pandemic is in stark contrast to the experience of the rest of the nation.

While ordinary members of the public were unable to visit loved ones and attend funerals, aides and officials in Number 10 and Whitehall enjoyed numerous social events.

The investigation into alleged Covid rule breaking in Downing Street and government departments got underway last month, led by senior civil servant Sue Gray (below).

The National: Undated handout file photo issued by GOV.UK of Sue Gray, second permanent secretary at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, who is leading an investigation into lockdown-breaking parties across Whitehall. Issue date: Thursday January

But the “partygate” revelations exploded this week, after ITV news published a leaked email showing the first evidence of a party on May 20, 2020 at the height of lockdown.

It revealed as many as 100 people were invited to a “bring your own booze” drinks event in the Downing Street garden to “make the most of the lovely weather”.

Last Wednesday. Boris Johnson admitted at Prime Minister’s Questions that he had joined colleagues at the drinks party to “thank groups of staff” for their hard work during pandemic. He apologised for the way he handled the event and said he understood the public’s “rage” over it.

The scandal was deepened further when it emerged that the former government head, who was in charge of drawing up Covid restrictions, had held a boozy leaving do during lockdown.

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Kate Joseph issued an apology for a gathering with colleagues in the Cabinet Office in December 2020.

Downing Street also said sorry to Buckingham Palace for two staff parties in Number 10 on the night before Prince Philip’s funeral in April last year, which went on into the early hours of the morning, with dancing and drinking. Covid restrictions at the time meant the Queen had to sit alone in church during the service.

The long list of parties which have emerged show that events began in May 2020 – at a time when Covid restrictions meant people could not go into the homes or gardens of friends and family, and were only allowed to meet with one other person from outside their household in an outdoor public place.

On May 15 Johnson, his wife Carrie, former chief adviser Dominic Cummings and Johnson’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds were pictured sitting around a table in the No 10 garden, with wine and cheese. Around 15 other people were also in the photograph, with the Prime Minister insisting it was a “work meeting”.

Five days later on May 20, came the “bring your own booze” garden party at Downing Street.

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Fast forward to November 2020 and after some easing of restrictions over the summer, a month long “stay at home” lockdown in England was introduced. This meant all indoor socialising between households was banned – but that didn’t stop the gatherings at Downing Street.

On November 13, it was reported Johnson gave a leaving speech for Lee Cain (below), his departing director of communications. On the same day, there are allegations that the Prime Minister’s then fiancee hosted a party in their flat. A spokesman for Carrie Johnson has called the claim “total nonsense”.

The National: Lee Cain walks in Westminster, London, on the day after he announced that he is resigning as Downing Street's director of communications and will leave the post at the end of the year. PA Photo. Picture date: Thursday November 12, 2020. See PA story

Later in the month on November 25, there were drinks at the Treasury, which officials say involved a “small number” of staff who had come into the office to work on the Spending Review.

Two days later it was reported the Prime Minister gave a farewell speech to an aide, with the leaving do said to be for Cleo Watson, a senior Downing Street aide and ally of Cummings.

The gatherings continued in December, with the Department for Education confirming a social event had happened on the 10th, after reports former education secretary Gavin Williamson threw a party and delivered a short speech at an event organised at his department’s Whitehall headquarters.

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The next day, Downing Street took delivery of a wine fridge through the back door for staff events dubbed “wine-time Fridays”, held regularly between autumn 2020 and spring 2021. According to sources cited by The Mirror, the Prime Minister allegedly encouraged the parties to help aides “let off steam” during lockdown and attended a “handful” of the gatherings.

Among those caught up in the scandal was Tory London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey (below), who quit his role chairing the London Assembly’s police and crime committee after a picture showed him at party on December 14.

The National:

THE next day Johnson appeared on contestants’ screens at a Downing Street quiz, flanked by colleagues with one draped in tinsel and another wearing a Santa hat, in Number 10. Downing Street said Johnson “briefly” attended the quiz but insisted it was a virtual event.

The parties continued with senior civil servants “boozing and dancing” at a Department for Transport party on December 16.

A DfT spokesman described it as a “low-key, socially distanced gathering” but apologised for the “error of judgement”.

The next day was a Cabinet Office event billed as “Christmas party!” in digital calendars, according to reports. This is said to have been attended by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, with a spokesman saying he “played no part in the event, but walked through the team’s office on the way to his own office”.

He was originally tasked with the investigation into alleged Covid rule breaking in Downing Street but was subsequently replaced by Gray.

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On the same day, leaving drinks for the former director general of the UK Government’s Covid Taskforce took place. Josephs, who is now chief executive of Sheffield City Council, has said she is co-operating with Gray’s investigation.

A Christmas party held at Downing Street on December 18 was the event which kickstarted the deluge of allegations around the breaking of numerous rule restrictions.

Officials and advisers reportedly made speeches, enjoyed a cheese board, drank together and exchanged gifts, although the Prime Minister is not thought to have attended.

Johnson’s former spokeswoman Allegra Stratton quit in December last year, after a film of her joking about the party with fellow aides at a mock press conference emerged on the internet.