No.10 Garden Gathering Did Not Break Rules Because Staff Wore Suits, Says Dominic Raab

"This wasn't a social occasion, it was staff having a drink after meetings."
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Dominic Raab has said No.10 staff were not breaking the Covid rules by gathering in the Downing Street garden together in May last year because they were in “suits”.

Boris Johnson is facing fresh questions over gatherings held at Downing Street during lockdown restrictions after the emergence of a photo showing him, his wife, and staff in the garden of No.10 during the first national lockdown.

The photo, obtained by The Guardian, showed the prime minister, 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.

Speaking to Sky News on Monday morning, Raab said the No.10 garden was often “used for work”.

“It’s a place of work, they are all in suits, or predominately in formal attire,” the deputy prime minister said.

Asked to examine what people in the photo were wearing, Raab added: “Some of them have taken their jackets off.”

In a separate interview with BBC Breakfast, also defended the gathering. “This wasn’t a social occasion, it was staff having a drink after meetings,” he said.

No.10 has insisted work meetings often took place in the garden. But the photo was taken at a time when restrictions on meeting others were still in place.

Earlier on the same day, then health secretary Matt 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.”

He added: “Please stick with the rules, keep an eye on your family and don’t take risks.”

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner has urged Johnson to “tell us the truth”.

In the photograph published by The Guardian, Johnson can be seen sitting around a garden table with his then-fiancee Carrie, and two members of staff.

On the table are bottles of wine and a cheeseboard. Four other members of staff are sat around a second table a distance away.

Nine people are then gathered on the grass, with another two sat on the floor to the right.

On Sunday, a No 10 spokesperson told The Guardian: “As we said last week, work meetings often take place in the Downing Street garden in the summer months. On this occasion there were staff meetings after a No 10 press conference.

“Downing Street is the prime minister’s home as well as his workplace. The Prime Minister’s wife lives in No 10 and therefore also legitimately uses the garden.”

But following the emergence of the photographs, Rayner tweeted: “I guess staff meetings look a bit different if you went to Eton?

“Enough is enough. Tell us the truth about what was going on in Downing Street from the very beginning immediately @BorisJohnson.”

The alleged gathering is one of a number which have been reported across Whitehall during coronavirus restrictions.

Senior civil servant Sue Gray has been tasked with investigating the reports after Cabinet Secretary Simon Case was removed from the probe after it was revealed he had known about a quiz held in his department.


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