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A timeline of the Partygate scandal

Boris Johnson deliberately misled Parliament when he denied any knowledge of lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street, according to the long-awaited verdict of the inquiry into his conduct. 

The former prime minister “had knowledge of breaches of the Rules and Guidance that occurred in No 10”, the Commons Privileges Committee has declared.

His denials over the Partygate scandal were “so disingenuous that they were deliberate attempts to mislead the Committee”, the 30,000-word report concluded. 

Here is how the scandal played out.

1

15 May 2020

The first restriction breaches took place days after Johnson announced that the country would begin taking the “first careful steps” out of lockdown, the Evening Standard said. People could not leave home without a reasonable excuse and could only meet one person outside while exercising, according to rules at the time.

An investigation by The Guardian in December 2021 led to the publication of a picture of Johnson, flanked by Carrie Symonds and his then chief adviser Dominic Cummings, drinking wine and eating cheese in the No. 10 garden.

That day, the health secretary at the time, Matt Hancock, had urged “people to stick to the rules and not take advantage of the good weather over the May weekend to socialise in groups”.

When asked about it later, Johnson said: “Those people were at work talking about work.” The event was not investigated by the police.

2

20 May 2020

One of the most explosive of the lockdown parties was revealed when an email leaked to ITV News showed more than 100 Downing Street staff were invited for “socially distanced drinks” in the garden of No. 10 to “make the most of the lovely weather”.

Sent by Johnson’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds, the email invited employees including advisers, speech writers and door staff to come over and “bring your own booze”.

Johnson told Prime Minister’s Questions in January 2022 that he attended for around “25 minutes” but thought it was “a work event”.

3

19 June 2020

ITV News reported in January 2022 that a birthday party was held in the Cabinet Room for Johnson with up to 30 people. His then girlfriend Carrie Symonds apparently presented him with a cake and “led staff in a chorus of happy birthday”, said the broadcaster.

Johnson famously claimed he had been “ambushed by cake”, and that he was there for less than 10 minutes.

Police determined that the event breached the rules, which at the time banned most indoor gatherings involving more than two people. Johnson and Symonds both received fixed-penalty notices, as did the then chancellor, Rishi Sunak. The latter claimed to have been “unintentionally present” when the cake was served, while waiting for a meeting.

4

13 November 2020

In early November new lockdown restrictions were introduced to deal with rising Covid-19 infections and hospitalisations, banning indoor gatherings and leaving the home for non-essential activities. Two gatherings allegedly took place eight days later, the evening No 10 adviser Dominic Cummings was sacked. 

A spokesman for Johnson’s then fiancée denied that these events, reported in The Daily Telegraph, had taken place. According to the police investigation an event on this day did breach the rules in place at the time, but it did not confirm whether it was one or both.

5

25 November 2020

The Times revealed in December 2021 that an “impromptu” party was held in late November 2020, to celebrate Sunak’s autumn spending review.

A spokesperson for the Treasury told The Guardian that a “small number” had remained after work to celebrate at their desks. According to The Times, “about two dozen civil servants” took part in the drinks after “wine and beer were brought into the Treasury”. “They’d all been working really hard,” sources told the paper.

6

27 November 2020

Two days later, it was alleged that the prime minister attended a leaving event for Cleo Watson, a former Downing Street adviser. 

A source told The Guardian “that Johnson personally attended and gave a speech”, mentioning how crowded it was in the room before leaving shortly afterwards to continue working.

7

10 December 2020

Eight days after the second national lockdown was replaced with the tier system and indoor meetings of two or more were banned in London, the Department for Education (DoE) held a Christmas party at which two dozen people drank in the department canteen. Susan Acland-Hood, a senior civil servant, said it had been organised at the request of former education secretary Gavin Williamson, The Guardian reported.

The DoE confirmed that the party had taken place “to thank staff for their work during the pandemic”.

8

14 December 2020

Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate for London mayor, was forced to apologise in December 2021 after the Daily Mirror published a photograph of him at a Christmas party held at the Tories’ campaign headquarters in London, alongside 24 other people, on 14 December. The photo showed the group smiling at the camera, next to catered food. 

The Conservative Party would later admit that an “unauthorised gathering” took place at its Westminster headquarters. Bailey stepped down as chair of the London Assembly police and crimes committee over the revelations. 

Police said there was insufficient evidence to determine whether rules had been broken, and the event was not included in the eventual report into parties in and around Downing Street by senior civil servant Sue Gray. 

9

15 December 2020

Pictures published in the Sunday Mirror in December 2021 showed Johnson hosting an online quiz in Downing Street in December 2020. He was with two members of his team wearing tinsel and a Santa hat. Johnson denied breaking any guidance or rules at this event.

The image served to “seriously undermine Downing Street’s claims” that “no parties had taken place in No.10”, said the paper.

Rules at the time banned two or more people from different households from meeting indoors, unless necessary for work purposes, but this event was not investigated by the police.

10

15 December 2020

Pictures published in the Daily Mirror last month showed Johnson hosting an online quiz in Downing Street in December 2020. He was seen with two members of his team wearing tinsel and a Santa hat.​​ 

A source told the paper “many staff huddled by computers, conferring on questions and knocking back fizz, wine and beer from a local Tesco Metro”. The image serves to “seriously undermine Downing Street’s claims” that “no parties had taken place in No.10”, said the paper.

11

16-17 December 2020

The Department for Transport was forced to apologise over allegations that a dozen of Grant Shapps’s team were “boozing and dancing” during a Christmas party on the same day that London had moved to the highest tier of restrictions at the time.

It was “inappropriate” and an “error of judgement” by staff, the department said.

The Cabinet Office later confirmed that staff took part in a virtual quiz on 17 December 2020, which was reportedly listed in digital calendars as “Christmas party!” in Cabinet Secretary Simon Case’s office. 

“Dozens” of officials from the Cabinet Office’s Covid-19 taskforce also attended a “boozy” leaving party for their boss Kate Josephs, according to The Telegraph. The bash was hosted in the 70 Whitehall office of the government unit while “the country was still under draconian restrictions” drawn up by the taskforce.

Police determined that an event on these dates breached the rules, but did not confirm which.

12

18 December 2020

A second Christmas party, also revealed by the Daily Mirror, took place in No. 10. 

“Officials knocked back glasses of wine during a Christmas quiz and a Secret Santa while the rest of the country was forced to stay at home,” said the paper. One source described the event as “a Covid nightmare” in which around “40 or 50” were crammed “cheek by jowl” into a medium-sized room in Downing Street.

Downing Street originally denied the report, but ITV would later publish a video of the prime minister’s then press secretary, Allegra Stratton, joking about the party taking place. Police would later rule that the event breached the regulations at the time. 

13

16 April 2021

Two further leaving events, one for departing director of communications James Slack and a second for a Downing Street photographer, took place on the evening before Prince Philip’s funeral.

“It is alleged that excessive alcohol was drunk, while at points, guests danced,” The Telegraph said. “The gatherings stretched late into the night – well beyond midnight.”

Downing Street would later apologise to Buckingham Palace. Police said that one event on this date breached the rules, but did not say which. BBC News reported that some people at Slack’s leaving party were issued with fines.

14

30 November 2021

The then political editor of the Daily Mirror, Pippa Crerar, first broke the story that Downing Street staff had held three parties in November and December 2020, while London was under lockdown restrictions. 

“Boris Johnson and his Downing Street staff have been accused of breaking Covid rules by attending parties at Number 10 in the run-up to last Christmas,” began the article that would kickstart more than two years of revelations, reporting and inquiries. 

Downing Street said that Covid rules were followed at all times, and denied that any party had taken place.

15

December 2021

A video obtained by ITV News showed Allegra Stratton joking about the party in Downing Street on 18 December 2020.  She resigned the following day, after an intense backlash.

Johnson then instructed Simon Case, the cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, to investigate claims of a Christmas party in Downing Street, telling MPs that he was “furious”. The next day, he announced a Cabinet Office inquiry, but reports emerged that Case was found to have attended one of the parties and he was forced to remove himself from the investigation. He was replaced by experienced civil servant Sue Gray.

Police later determined that the event did take place, and that it breached the rules at the time.

16

25 January 2022

The Metropolitan Police launched an investigation into 12 of the 16 events examined by the Sue Gray inquiry.

More than 100 people were sent questionnaires as part of Operation Hillman, about alleged Covid law-breaking events that took place between May 2020 and April 2021.

Johnson told the Commons he welcomed the investigation.

17

12 April 2022

Johnson was issued with a fixed penalty notice by the Metropolitan Police for lockdown breaches during the pandemic, making him the first serving prime minister found to have broken the law while in Downing Street. His wife Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak also received a fine.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said the PM and chancellor had “broken the law and repeatedly lied to the British public” and “must both resign”. 

18

21 April 2022

The House of Commons passed a motion to refer Johnson to its Privileges Committee, to consider whether he had deliberately misled the Commons when he said no Covid guidance or rules were breached in Downing Street. 

The inquiry was delayed until after the Met Police and Gray investigations. 

19

19 May 2022

The Met Police concluded its investigation, which had examined evidence from the Gray inquiry as well as records and photographs from the time.

Overall, it made 126 referrals for fixed penalty notices, to 83 people, with 28 people receiving between two and five fines. 

The investigation cost nearly half a million pounds.

20

25 May 2022

Gray published her full report. She found “failures of leadership and judgement in No 10 and the Cabinet Office” for which “the senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility”.

21

6 June 2022

Johnson won a vote of no-confidence, but announced that he would stand down as prime minister less than a month later after a mass resignation of members of his government.

22

22 March 2023

Johnson appeared before the Privileges Committee. During a mammoth televised hearing lasting nearly five hours, he told the cross-party group of MPs that his assurances to the House of Commons that Covid rules had been followed were made in “good faith”.

23

23 May 2023

Johnson was referred to the police by the Cabinet Office over more claims that he had broken the law during lockdown. Johnson’s ministerial diary from 2020 and 2021 revealed visits by friends to Chequers, his grace and favour residence, during the pandemic, said The Times.

Johnson gave the diaries to his lawyers defending him during the Covid inquiry, but as the lawyers were being funded by the government, the Cabinet Office was allowed to see them. 

The Cabinet Office then referred the matter to the police and the House of Commons Privileges Committee, saying it was obliged to do so by its code of conduct. 

24

15 June 2023

The Privileges Committee released its report into whether Johnson misled Parliament. 

It found it “highly unlikely” that Johnson could have “genuinely believed” his statements that the rules or guidelines were being complied with, given his “direct personal experience” of the events and his familiarity with said rules and guidance “as their most prominent public promoter”. 

It was “just as unlikely” he could have continued to believe this when he gave evidence to the committee, it said. 

If Johnson had not resigned as an MP on Friday, pre-empting the committee’s findings, the report would have recommended a suspension of 90 days, rather than the anticipated 10 days. A suspension of any more than 10 days could have triggered a by-election.

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