Politics

Matt Hancock WAS in No10 garden on evening of ‘cheese and wine party’


Matt Hancock has admitted he was in the Downing Street garden on the evening of the Number 10 ‘cheese and wine’ gathering but is unable to say if he is pictured in a leaked photograph which showed aides chatting.  

Downing Street has insisted the gathering in the garden in May 2020 was work-related and therefore no coronavirus rules were broken. 

The leaked picture showed Boris Johnson and his then fiancee Carrie sat at a table with cheese and wine while a group of aides stood next to each other in the background. 

The Telegraph claimed that Mr Hancock is one of the people in the picture but a spokesman for the former Cabinet minister said the image is ‘not clear’.

The spokesman for Mr Hancock said: ‘It is not clear who the person is in the photo but there is no suggestion Mr Hancock did anything wrong. 

‘He was in Downing Street to give the Press Conference that day. Matt arrived at Downing St at 4:43pm and gave the press conference from 5:03pm to approximately 5:53pm on lifting lockdown measures. 

‘After the press conference, Matt debriefed his own team, then went to the Downing St garden to debrief the Prime Minister. He left Downing Street at 6:32pm and went back to the Department for Health and Social Care.’

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said last week that ‘on 15 May 2020 the Prime Minister held a series of meetings throughout the afternoon, including briefly with the then health and care secretary and his team in the garden following a press conference’.  

The leaked photo of the garden gathering showed Mr Johnson, Mrs Johnson and 17 other staff members in the garden on May 15, 2020, with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard on a table in front of the PM. 

The Telegraph claimed that Mr Hancock and Mr Johnson’s former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, were among those in the picture. 

In the press conference on May 15 last year, Mr Hancock had told Britons: ‘You can now meet one other person from outside your household in an outdoor, public place. But please keep two metres apart.

‘This weekend, with the good weather and the new rules, I hope people can enjoy being outside but please stick with the rules, keep an eye on your family and don’t take risks.’ 

Downing Street has declined to comment on which staff members were present at the gathering. 

It comes amid a hunt for the Whitehall insider with an ‘animus’ against Mr Johnson suspected of leaking the picture.

Dominic Raab said yesterday that it was clear that whoever made the photograph public wanted to ‘damage the Government’.

The image of the garden gathering with wine and cheese, taken during the first national lockdown, was apparently taken from a first floor veranda at the back of No 11 Downing Street, where the Chancellor’s offices are.

Matt Hancock was in the Downing Street garden on the evening of the Number 10 'cheese and wine' gathering but is unable to say if he is pictured in a leaked photograph which showed aides chatting

Matt Hancock was in the Downing Street garden on the evening of the Number 10 ‘cheese and wine’ gathering but is unable to say if he is pictured in a leaked photograph which showed aides chatting

Boris Johnson and staff pictured with wine in Downing Street garden in May 2020, during the first national lockdown

The hunt is on for the so-called 'snappy rat'. The Treasury angrily denied it was responsible, with a source saying: 'It was not anyone in the No 11 team. That room is accessible to anyone working in Downing Street'

The hunt is on for the so-called ‘snappy rat’. The Treasury angrily denied it was responsible, with a source saying: ‘It was not anyone in the No 11 team. That room is accessible to anyone working in Downing Street’

Who has been claimed to have been in the No10 garden?

BORIS JOHNSON, Prime Minister

CARRIE JOHNSON, PM’s wife

Carrie was Mr Johnson’s fiancee at the time of the photo, and she was pictured holding their baby Wilf. 

MATT HANCOCK, Health Secretary ?

Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock

Mr Hancock was Health Secretary at the time of the photo and had earlier that day told the daily coronavirus briefing: ‘People can now spend time outdoors and exercise as often as you like – and you can meet one other person from outside your household in an outdoor, public place. But please keep two metres apart.’

DOMINIC CUMMINGS, PM’s Chief Advisor?

Dominic Cummings

Dominic Cummings

Spent a controversial 16 months in Downing Street before quitting last December after losing a power struggle with Carrie Johnson. 

MARTIN REYNOLDS, PM’s Principal Private Secretary?

Martin Reynolds

Martin Reynolds

Mr Reynolds has worked in government for over a decade, with him serving as the PM’s PPS since October 2019 after four years in the same role at the Foreign Office. 

JAMES SLACK, PM’s Official spokesperson?

James Slack

James Slack

Mr Slack served as the PM’s Director of Communications from the beginning of this year after nearly four years as Mr Johnson’s official spokesperson. Office.

JESS SELDON: PM’s Chief Press Officer on Foreign Affairs?

IMRAN SHAFI, PM’s Private Secretary ?

A No 10 source said that the office ‘was used by Rishi Sunak’s people, and anybody else going in would have been noticed.’

But the Treasury angrily denied it was responsible, with a source saying: ‘It was not anyone in the No 11 team. That room is accessible to anyone working in Downing Street.’

Now the hunt is on for the so-called ‘snappy rat’. The phrase is a play on the ‘chatty rat’ scandal, when someone leaked plans for a second national lockdown last year.

A ‘chatty pig’ was also accused of briefing against Mr Johnson after he made a speech praising Peppa Pig World.

It was claimed today that some of those who attended the event were some of Mr Johnson’s top team such as Mr Hancock and Mr Cummings. 

At the time the photo was taken, restrictions on meeting others were still in place and earlier that day, then-health secretary Mr Hancock had told the daily coronavirus briefing: ‘People can now spend time outdoors and exercise as often as you like – and you can meet one other person from outside your household in an outdoor, public place.

‘But please keep two metres apart.’ 

According to reports, the attendees are said to have included the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds, his private secretary Imran Shafi, his official spokesperson James Slack and his former Chief Press Officer on Foreign Affairs Jess Seldon.

Amid a series of claims about parties at Downing Street and in Whitehall during lockdown, campaigners said the new photograph showed the Prime Minister ‘presided over a culture of believing that the rules applied only to other people since early in the pandemic’.

It was taken on Friday May 15, 2020, when people were only allowed to socialise outside with one other person, socially distanced.

Thousands could not see dying loved ones in hospital or relatives in care homes.

Last night Mr Johnson defended the gathering, saying: ‘This is where I live, this is where I work; those were meetings of people at work, talking about work.’

Sources said the photograph was probably taken from one of the state rooms used by the Chancellor’s special advisers and civil servants. Former shadow chancellor Ed Balls claimed it was shot from ‘the 11 Downing Street first floor balcony’.

Mr Raab, asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether he believed ‘someone or some group’ was ‘dripping out leaks to bring Boris Johnson down’, said ‘it’s certainly being done with an animus’ to ‘damage the government’.

The Deputy Prime Minister added that the gathering was not a party because the attendees were wearing business suits.

He told Times Radio: ‘Downing Street used that garden as a place of work. They used it for work meetings.

‘The photo is from a day when, I think, the Prime Minister had just done a press conference.

‘And sometimes they’ll have a drink after a long day or a long week. And that’s not against the regulations.’

The photo, obtained by The Guardian, showed Mr Johnson, his then-fiancee Carrie and 17 staff members in the garden with bottles of wine and a cheese board on a table in front of the Prime Minister.

Mr Raab said: ‘It is not just a place of work for all the staff that work in No 10 and the Prime Minister, but it is also the residence of the Prime Minister and his very young family.’ 

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said yesterday: ‘To suggest that that is a work meeting is a bit of a stretch by anybody’s analysis.

‘I think there are very serious questions to be answered, but just look at the photo and ask yourself: Is that a work meeting going on or is that a social event? I think the answer is pretty obvious.’

Jo Goodman, co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said: ‘This supposed work meeting, with no pen, paper or laptop in sight, instead replaced with vital cheese and wine, shows that [the Prime Minister] presided over a culture of believing that the rules applied only to other people since early in the pandemic.’

Twitter users contrasted the photo with their own stories of being separated from loved ones at the time.

One shared a picture of her son seeing his grandmother through a window, while another told how she was banned from sitting with her mother in her garden shortly before she died.

The gathering is one of about a dozen which reportedly took place across Whitehall despite coronavirus restrictions.

Senior civil servant Sue Gray is investigating reports of the parties.

 

He’s lost the room! Darts fans sing ‘Stand up if you hate Boris’ in unison at the World Championships while football fans chant expletives about him as the fallout from the No10 Christmas party rows continues 

Sports fans across the country are letting Boris Johnson know how they feel with hostile songs and chants as fallout from the No10 Christmas party rows continues.

Fans could be heard singing ‘stand up if you hate Boris’ in unison at the 2022 World Darts Championship at a packed Alexandra Palace in north London on Monday evening.

A fan in the crowd was spotted holding a sign which read ‘all round to Boris’s after’ – reference to the Christmas party rows that continue to rumble on.

Meanwhile, at the Premier League clash between Leeds United and Arsenal on Saturday, the stands were full of fans singing ‘Boris Johnson is a c**t’ repeatedly in videos shared across social media. 

The video, which has been viewed more than 750,000 times on Twitter, shows supporters at the Elland Road stadium in Leeds clapping while they chant the explicit words during Leeds’ 4-1 defeat to Arsenal on Saturday.

Fans at the World Darts Championship held in London on Monday night could be heard singing 'Stan up if you hate Boris' in unison days after football fans were heard chanting expletives

Fans at the World Darts Championship held in London on Monday night could be heard singing ‘Stan up if you hate Boris’ in unison days after football fans were heard chanting expletives

Fans could be heard chanting the anti-Boris song at Alexandra Palace on Monday (pictured)

Fans could be heard chanting the anti-Boris song at Alexandra Palace on Monday (pictured)

The anti-Boris sentiments come mid mounting pressure facing the Prime Minister over a series of scandals in recent weeks.

The latest crisis facing the Government is the backlash over a leaked photo which shows the Prime Minister and his wife Carrie sitting at a table with two people while another 13 had bottles of alcohol nearby at a table and on the lawn on Friday May 15, 2020.

At the time – Friday May 15, 2020 – only two people were allowed to socialise outside while socially distanced.

Downing Street has refused to apologised, instead insisting it was not a social event, and claimed staff were working in the garden in the afternoon and evening.

Those pictured apparently included some of Mr Johnson’s top team – such as principal private secretary Martin Reynolds, former health secretary Matt Hancock and Dominic Cummings.

It is the latest in a ‘partygate’ row over celebrations inside No 10, with Downing Street accused of holding four parties that broke Covid restrictions last year.

Mr Johnson was forced to order a civil service enquiry, but the civil servant he chose to lead the inquiry quit after it emerged a quiz was held in his own department that he was aware of and spoke at.

The Prime Minister suffered another hammer blow on Sunday after his ally Lord Frost dramatically quit as Brexit Minister slating Covid curbs and high taxes.

Downing Street has now been accused of holding five parties over lockdown, including a quiz attended by dozens of staff and which the Prime Minister helped to host on December 15 – three days before another Christmas party which is being investigated.

No10 previously insisted that Downing Street were ‘often required to be in the office to work on the pandemic response’ during the various lockdowns, and therefore ‘those who were in the office for work may have attended virtually from their desks’.

But the Mirror said a message sent by No10’s head of HR on the night of the quiz advised that those who had stayed behind to take part ‘go out the back’ when they left.

Mr Johnson said an inquiry would be held to investigate the allegations. But Cabinet Secretary Simon Case quit his role leading the inquiry into a number of alleged gatherings on Friday, after it emerged a quiz was held in his own department that he was aware of and spoke at.

MailOnline understands that one event was held on December 17 last year, with an email sent out to around 15 people in Mr Case’s Private Office titled ‘Christmas Quiz’.

Whitehall heavy hitter Sue Gray has been installed in his place to carry out inquiries into three alleged gatherings at Downing Street and the Department for Education in November and December last year, when indoor mixing was banned.

The terms of what was then Mr Case’s investigation said it could be widened to include any relevant allegations.

The damaging scandal has been blamed for the Tories’ disastrous loss in the North Shropshire by-election last Thursday. 

Speaking to reporters on a visit in his Uxbridge constituency today, Mr Johnson insisted the public was more interested in other matters such as coronavirus, and suggested the media reporting on lockdown-busting parties had caused the Tories to lose the North Shropshire by-election.

He told broadcasters ‘what people have been hearing is just a constant litany of stuff about politics and politicians and stuff that isn’t about them’.  

The Conservatives suffered a humiliating defeat in the North Shropshire by-election caused by the resignation of Owen Paterson amid the lobbying scandal and were beaten by the Lib Dems

The Conservatives suffered a humiliating defeat in the North Shropshire by-election caused by the resignation of Owen Paterson amid the lobbying scandal and were beaten by the Lib Dems 

The Lib Dems achieved a 34 percentage point swing that wiped out Owen Paterson’s 23,000 advantage at the 2019 election and deliver victory by nearly 6,000 votes.

The stunning turnaround came despite the Tories fielding a candidate, Neil Shastri-Hurst, with good credentials who was regarded as having performed respectably. 

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems put up Helen Morgan, a strident Remainer, to fight a seat that voted enthusiastically for Brexit in 2016.

The cause of the by-election was far from ideal, having been triggered by the resignation of Owen Paterson after Boris Johnson mounted an abortive attempt to save him from punishment for lobbying.

Earlier this month, the Conservatives were fined £17,800 over a controversial donation which helped cover the lavish refurbishments to the Prime Minister’s Downing Street flat.  

One Twitter user shared how she was banned from sitting with her mother in her garden shortly before she died in May 2020

One Twitter user shared how she was banned from sitting with her mother in her garden shortly before she died in May 2020

In reaction to the photo leak another person shared a photo of her son seeing his grandmother through a window last May

In reaction to the photo leak another person shared a photo of her son seeing his grandmother through a window last May

‘This is MY May 2020, Boris’: Furious Brits share images of the loved ones they couldn’t see face-to-face – taken at same time PM held a cheese and wine ‘party’ in Downing Street

By Jamie Phillipsand Rachael Bunyanand Katie Westonand Rory Tingle, Home Affairs Correspondentand Jack Maidment, Deputy Political Editor For Mailonline  

Angry Britons today raged at how they could only see loved ones through care home windows while Boris Johnson and his staff enjoyed cheese and wine in the Downing Street garden.  

The image sparked fresh anger among the public, who have now told of the sacrifices they were making to abide by lockdown restrictions on the same date. 

Stephen Laughton revealed he could not see his dying mother because it was ‘against the rules’. He said: ‘On the left is the last photo I have of my mum alive in May 2020. Living alone with serious illness, she faced the pandemic with stoicism.

‘We went for a walk around her local park. When she suggested sitting 2m apart in her garden, I said: better not, it’s against the rules.’

Dr Ajay Verma, a gastroenterologist, recalled holding a minute’s silence in a hospital ward in memory of those who had lost their lives in the pandemic.

He said: ‘On Friday 15th May 2020 at 1pm we held a minute’s silence on our ward (and throughout our hospital) in memory of those who died from Covid – little did we know that the PM & friends were enjoying a garden party that same afternoon.’

The image sparked fresh anger among the public, who have now told of the sacrifices they were making to abide by lockdown restrictions on the same date

The image sparked fresh anger among the public, who have now told of the sacrifices they were making to abide by lockdown restrictions on the same date

Dr Ajay Verma, a gastroenterologist, recalled holding a minute's silence in a hospital ward in memory of those who had lost their lives in the pandemic

Dr Ajay Verma, a gastroenterologist, recalled holding a minute’s silence in a hospital ward in memory of those who had lost their lives in the pandemic

An NHS worker shared this image of the marks left by PPE on her face while working in a hospital during the same month the gathering took place

An NHS worker shared this image of the marks left by PPE on her face while working in a hospital during the same month the gathering took place 

Hundreds took to Twitter to share their anger about the photo, including SNP MP John Nicolson

Hundreds took to Twitter to share their anger about the photo, including SNP MP John Nicolson

Police officers in a patrol car move sunbathers on in Greenwich Park, London, using a megaphone. This image was taken on May 15 - the same day as the gathering

Police officers in a patrol car move sunbathers on in Greenwich Park, London, using a megaphone. This image was taken on May 15 – the same day as the gathering 

Two body boarders being stopped by police before entering the water in Wales on May 9

Two body boarders being stopped by police before entering the water in Wales on May 9

Today hundreds of people took to social media to rage about the latest apparent breach of Covid protocols by No10 staffers.  

A lung oncology cancer nurse specialist said: ‘This was me in May 2020 – exhausted, emotionally and physically spent. 

Was Downing Street lockdown ‘party’ snap taken from No 11 balcony? Claims picture was shot outside rooms used by Treasury staff – as Raab says it was captured by someone with ‘an animus’ against PM 

By James Gant and Rory Tingle for MailOnline 

A photograph exposing Boris Johnson, his wife and his aides at a lockdown-busting Downing Street gathering last summer was taken from a room used by Rishi Sunak and his team, it was claimed today.

Sources said the picture of the supposed party was likely captured near one of the state rooms used by the Chancellor and his staffers.

Meanwhile former shadow chancellor Ed Balls claimed the image was shot from ‘the 11 Downing Street first floor balcony’, which is thought to be outside Mr Sunak’s office.

It comes as names for some of those at the event – where guests drank wine and dined out on a cheeseboard – were put forward.

The revellers apparently included some of Mr Johnson’s top team – such as his principal private secretary, his private secretary and his political secretary.

Dominic Raab defended the Government this morning after the picture emerged last night of the ‘party’ during the first national lockdown.

The Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary stressed the garden was a ‘place of work’ and sometimes staff would have a ‘drink after a long day or a long week’.

The photo, obtained by the Guardian, showed Mr Johnson, his then-fiancee Carrie, and 17 other staff members in the garden on May 15, 2020, with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard on a table in front of the PM.

The PM and his wife – apparently holding their newborn baby Wilf – were seen sitting at a table with two people, while another four were pictured with bottles of alcohol at a nearby table and the rest on the lawn.

At the time – Friday May 15, 2020 – only two people were allowed to socialise outside, which has infuriated anti-lockdown politicians and Britons who suffered under tight restrictions.  

Insiders today claimed the angle of the photograph being just above the terrace at the back of 10 Downing Street suggested it was taken from one of the rooms used by Mr Sunak and his team.

One told MailOnline the picture was most likely shot next to some state rooms used by the Chancellor and his team for ‘ceremonial duties’.

Meanwhile former shadow chancellor of the exchequer and economic secretary to the Treasury Ed Balls tweeted he was ‘pretty sure’ it was taken from the No 11 first floor balcony.

‘I don’t have words for how I feel looking at Boris and his cheese and wine party that was going on at the same time. Seriously what does it take to get the Tories out?!’

A mother also shared a picture of her son having to speak to his grandmother through a window because the restrictions just a day prior to the picture of the Downing Street garden.

She said: ‘May the 14th 2020. My Son seeing his nanny through a window, whilst before he saw her for cuddles every day. Broke my heart. Heart is angry now.’

Pictures also showed police driving through a Greenwich Park in south London using a megaphone to address small groups having picnics in the sun on May 9.

Officers were also photographed stopping two body boarders from entering the sea on the same day as Downing Street staff enjoyed cheese and wine.

Westminster tube station was also eerily empty on May 15 as the vast majority of commuters worked from home. 

On May 10, five days before the picture, the Prime Minister addressed the nation from Downing Street and praised those that had ‘shown the good sense to support those rules overwhelmingly’.

He also described the ‘tragic’ death toll and the ‘immense suffering’ the country was having to endure.

A day after the garden meeting, an anti-lockdown demonstration took place in London’s Hyde Park.

Piers Corbyn was among 19 people arrested at the protest as hundreds gathered holding placards and banners including slogans like ‘freedom over fear’.

Dozens of police officers, including some on horseback, were patrolling the protest and issued a further 10 individuals with fines for not complying with lockdown restrictions.

Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor said the protestors were in clear breach of the guidance, putting themselves and others at risk of infection’.  

Those that were sticking to the Government imposed restrictions spoke of having to go more than a year without having human contact with their families.

Another Twitter user posted a picture of themselves in full personal protective equipment, recalling how they had to sleep in the garage to avoid putting their family at risk of contracting Covid.

They said: ‘This was me in May 2020, in the endless cycle of door-car-work-car-door, ‘don’t touch daddy ’till I changed and showered’.’

‘After possible contamination I slept in my garage to protect my family. Over a year later I would learn the Tories were laughing at us all…#cheeseandwine’

May 2020 was also the height of virtual quizzes, with friends and families forced to socialise over Zoom due to restrictions preventing the mixing of households. 

Labour Councillor for Bilborough in Nottingham, tweeted a picture of herself drinking with friends remotely after a ‘gruelling day’.

She said: ‘Picture May 2020. This is what socialising after a gruelling day looked like for those of us who followed the rules last May. 

‘We all had hard days in lockdown, none more so than the key workers we clapped for, but cheese and wine for 17 was NOT allowed.’

Laura Smith shared a picture of her son seeing his grandfather for the first time after ‘months of lockdown’, but added the pair sat two metres apart and did not embrace, believing they were ‘doing the right thing’.

Similarly, Kevin Pryce shared a picture visiting his father-in-law through a care home window, describing the luck his relative had in living in a ground floor room.

Another Twitter posted a picture of a closed off play area in her local estate, with children unable to use basic equipment like swings and slides during lockdown. 

Today, Dominic Raab said the photo did not show a social occasion but people ‘having a drink after a busy set of work meetings’ – adding that the fact attendees were ‘all in suits, or predominately in formal attire’ backed this up. 

In one interview, he incorrectly claimed that the PM had hosted a press conference that day, when in fact it was Health Secretary Matt Hancock. 

He told Times Radio: ‘Downing Street used that garden as a place of work. They used it for work meetings. The photo is from a day when, I think, the Prime Minister had just done a press conference. And sometimes they’ll have a drink after a long day or a long week. And that’s not against the regulations.’ 

 

Twitter users have shared pictures comparing what they were doing on the same day as an apparent social gathering at Downing Street

Twitter users have shared pictures comparing what they were doing on the same day as an apparent social gathering at Downing Street

In an interview today, Dominic Raab incorrectly claimed that the PM had hosted a press conference on May 15 - the day of the gathering - when in fact it was held by Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured at the event)

In an interview today, Dominic Raab incorrectly claimed that the PM had hosted a press conference on May 15 – the day of the gathering – when in fact it was held by Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured at the event) 

The number of confirmed cases of Omicron in England increased by 69 per cent on the previous day's total - up 9,427 to 23,168, figures from the UKHSA showed today

The number of confirmed cases of Omicron in England increased by 69 per cent on the previous day’s total – up 9,427 to 23,168, figures from the UKHSA showed today




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