Boris Johnson claims “nobody told me” Downing Street party was against COVID rules

In May 2020, England's music venues, pubs, restaurants and more were largely shuttered due to lockdown

Boris Johnson has claimed that he wasn’t informed that a Downing Street garden gathering that’s been alleged to have been party was against COVID rules at the time.

The Prime Minister said in a new interview that he “humbly apologises” to people for “misjudgements” that were made, but that he wouldn’t have attended the gathering on May 20, 2020, if he thought it broke the rules.

He told Sky News today (January 18): “I’m saying categorically that nobody told me, nobody said this was something that was against the rules, doing something that wasn’t a work event because frankly, I can’t imagine why it would have gone ahead, or it would have been allowed to go ahead if it was against the rules.”


Under the rules that applied at the time of the alleged party, which dozens of Downing Street staff were invited to in an email sent by principal private secretary Martin Reynolds, people in England were subject to “not meeting up with any more than one person from outside your household” [via FullFact].

The law in May 2020 said “no person may participate in a gathering in a public place of more than two people” unless it was for one of a number of stated reasons. These included when the gathering was “essential for work purposes” or “all the persons in the gathering are members of the same household”. Strict social distancing guidelines were also in place.

That spring, when England was in its first COVID lockdown, music venues, pubs, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and other entertainment spaces were largely not permitted to open or operate. Certain food establishments could offer takeaway services and only essential shops were open.

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson .Credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Reynolds’ email, which was leaked to ITV News on January 10, read: “Hi all, after what has been an incredibly busy period we thought it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden this evening. Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!”


The encouragement of alcohol and the tone of the email has led many MPs – both in the Conservatives and opposition parties – to believe that the May 20 gathering was a social gathering and not for work purposes.

Last week, Johnson told Parliament that he “believed implicitly” that the outdoors event, which he admitted he attended for 25 minutes, was for work, and urged people to wait for the outcome of an internal investigation by Sue Gray, the Second Permanent Secretary in the Cabinet Office.

It’s currently not known, per the rules at the time, whether the Downing Street garden, which isn’t a public space, is considered exempt as a workplace.

Dominic Cummings, former senior aide to the Prime Minister, accused Johnson in his blog yesterday (January 17) of lying that he did not know that the May gathering was a party.

Cummings said that he personally told Reynolds at the time that the invitation broke the rules and claimed that Reynolds replied: “So long as it’s socially distanced I think it’s OK, I’ll check with the PM if he’s happy for it to go ahead.”

He wrote in his blog: “Not only me but other eyewitnesses who discussed this at the time would swear under oath this is what happened.”

Per Sky News, Johnson has claimed that he only saw Reynolds’ email invite for the gathering the other day when it was revealed to the media.

Johnson continues to face calls for his resignation, but has so far resisted. He apologised in the House of Commons last week for attending the event and reiterated that Gray’s report, which is expected at the earliest by the end of this week, must be allowed “space” to be concluded.

Responding to his latest statement, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “Boris Johnson clearly knows it’s the end of the road.

“He’s the prime minister, he set the rules, he didn’t need anyone to tell him that the party he attended broke them.

“If he had any respect for the British public, he would do the decent thing and resign.”

Shadow Health & Social Care Secretary Wes Streeting wrote on Twitter: “People were doing the right thing. We were all in it together. Boris Johnson and Number 10 weren’t. That’s why he is unfit for office.”

Elsewhere, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has repeatedly called for Johnson to resign. “The Conservatives have let Britain down,” he wrote last week after Downing Street was forced to apologise to Buckingham Palace for hosting separate events on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral last January. “An apology isn’t the only thing the Prime Minister should be offering the palace today. Boris Johnson should resign.”

In other news, Cassetteboy have released a new parody video in which they once again take aim at Boris Johnson – check it out here.