by Adam King
Tuesday, 11
January 2022
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17:57

The Downing Street party was almost certainly illegal

Some attendees could be convicted
by Adam King
A fantastic year so far. Credit: Getty

Wine and cheese are two items that aren’t typically associated with hard graft. Work first, then wine, is the traditional order of things. But the atmosphere of the 15th May gathering in the Downing Street garden looked just about business-like enough for Dominic Raab to maintain a straight face while defending it as a work meeting.

The 20th May gathering, however, first revealed in Dominic Cummings’ blog and confirmed by a leaked email, will be harder to shrug off. On those rare occasions when wine is deployed to lubricate white collar labour, it is provided. It is limited. And it is not referred to as “booze”. Exclamation marks are left well alone. “Socially Distanced Drinks!” (“as if!”) combined with “bring your own booze!” in the email from Johnson’s Principle Private Secretary Martin Reynolds says only one thing: sod the rules, it’s party time. It was almost certainly illegal.

Of course, as last week’s verdicts in the Colston trial reminds us, guilt or innocence in legal terms is less a question of objective fact than something to be determined by a jury — or, in the case of a breach of May 2020’s lockdown regulations, by a magistrate. And evidential issues might arise: would Reynolds’ email necessarily be admissible as hearsay, for instance? But on the facts that have so far been revealed, some attendees, at least, would be highly likely to be convicted.

As for the Prime Minister, the offence is committed by being outside your home. But if he sanctioned the gathering, he is guilty of the offences under s.44(1) Magistrates Court Act 1981: aiding and abetting. His only way out would be to say that he knew nothing about it, or believed it was a work meeting, or something along those lines. His chances of acquittal would depend on the evidence, much of which is yet to be revealed.

And then there is the Guidance: the rules without the force of law, but which the Government repeatedly told us we must follow. At the time, the Guidance said “businesses should also take reasonable steps to avoid people being gathered together” and, under the heading “Public Gatherings”,  “workers should try to minimise all meetings and other gatherings in the workplace”. The Government is not a business and Downing Street is not a public place, but Guidance is about spirit rather than letter.

On both sides of the Covid divide, many will feel that the 20th May gathering, coming just minutes after a Government minister took to the podium to urge the nation to follow the rules, is too much to swallow. And if the appropriate level of public anger is maintained, Johnson might need to organise another wine and cheese party – this time without any cheese, or guests.

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Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
4 months ago

Am I the only person who couldn’t care less about parties under Covid? People broke the ‘rules’; people who set the rules broke the rules; twas ever thus. I’d rather condemn people for stuff much more important than this – like pulling out of Afghanistan without a plan; like funding a lobbying organisation that’s trying to crush the rights of women (Stonewall in case you didn’t guess).
If this gets Johnson chucked out of office, or damages the Tories so much they lose the next election, then it’s going to result in much worse for the U.K. People have done far worse things while in office – remember Blair?

Roger le Clercq
Roger le Clercq
4 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

You are not alone. But what is a “principle” Private Secretary but someone who gives guidance? We really should move on.

Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
4 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

.

Last edited 4 months ago by Dan Gleeballs
AC Harper
AC Harper
4 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Indeed. Prosecution for a party, but a knighthood for an unnecessary war? A sense of proportion is needed.

Matt M
Matt M
4 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Absolutely agree. Completely trivial.

Boris has achieved two amazing things:

1. Brexit – against all the odds. Winning the referendum, stymying the hated Remainer Parliament, winning a landslide and negotiating a post-Brexit agreement with the EU that didn’t compromise our sovereignty

2. A response to Covid-19 which, I think, got the balance between medical and economic threats right – focusing on vaccines and boosters and keeping restrictions as light as any western country. We invented, developed, tested, manufactured and distributed our own vaccines which only two countries managed in large part down to the government. We avoided mass unemployment largely through the furlough scheme. And have been largely restriction free since May (unlike most of the rich world).

Not a bad record set against some after work drinks and some expensive curtains.

No PM since at least Maggie has achieved anything remotely comparable.

Last edited 4 months ago by Matt M
Andy Moore
Andy Moore
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

I agree with you on Brexit and the vaccines, as for the rest he’s been a failure. At the time of this latest party, people were attending funerals of their loved ones who died in care homes. It’s pretty clear that the government decision to release 25k old people from hospitals in to care homes, with a lot of them not tested for covid, resulted in many premature deaths. If a private company had done this, the decision makers would be up in front of a judge and 12 of their peers.
The bloke is a complete liability, the decision for the garden party and moving the 25k from hospitals, shows that he has zero idea of the consequences of his actions. The sooner he goes the better and the safer we will all be.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

I disagree. Whilst I think the rules were petty and rather pointless, they were the rules and numerous people were charged, fined and reprimanded for breaking them, and I believe those responsible for making the rules should be held to a higher standard than those tasked with merely following them.
Most people don’t worry about things such as extra marital affairs or lobbying from MPs, it’s almost built into their expectations, however the electorate often take a very dim view hypocrisy, especially as they’ve had to endure months of missed weddings, funerals and the like while MPs were having a boozy party.
Personally I’m sick of Johnson. I’ll always be glad he managed to ram Brexit through, even if there are aspects such as NI protocol I’m not happy with, however I now think his time is up

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
4 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

But if they were guidelines, not the law then guidelines are there to advise and warn and even suggest. But they do not have the force of law. People who work together gathered together? Stupid perhaps, but not illegal

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

You’re arguing over a technicality. Seeing as people have been fined for gatherings of this nature then I think we can say it was against the rules at the time.
Therefore if those at the top make the rules for others then ignore them themselves then that’s hypocrisy, and that’s rarely tolerated by the electorate

Claire D
Claire D
4 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Equally in reply to Matt M.
There’s a lot of truth and common sense in what you say. However, having a big boozy party in this way shows contempt for the people – the majority – who did keep to the rules and the guidance.
Getting Brexit done and managing COVID reasonably well is not enough if the people you have done it for are then treated like fools. You are undermining yourself.
On the other hand, getting Brexit done and dealing with COVID and maintaining order in the workplace would have placed the government in a much more powerful position. That would have created more stability for all of us.

Last edited 4 months ago by Claire D
Matt M
Matt M
4 months ago
Reply to  Claire D

Thanks Claire. I don’t disagree, I would like no10 to be run better and staff kept on a shorter leash. I have no doubt that Boris’ character makes his staff feel that they can ignore the rules (“if it’s good enough for the boss etc”).

But I think Boris was the only politician in Britain that could have pushed through Brexit and that is down to his devil-may-care, risk taking character. You can’t be that and also a model of probity- Disraeli and Churchill were similar (Winston drank champagne and brandy every day when the rest of the country was on rations!)

Maybe it is time for a different personality in charge – hopefully Covid is behind us and it is time for painstakingly dealing with inflation, illegal immigration and the rest without these tawdry distractions . Perhaps Boris can’t adapt to that type of work and should retire to the backbenches.

But that would seem a shame to me for two reasons:

1. Remoaners never die! Even now they are plotting to get us back in. Getting shut of Boris would fire them up further. It is easy to imagine his successor making a hash of governing and Starmer/Sturgeon getting in next time.

2. I still think Boris has something to offer. His great gift is communication. Who better to defeat the Woke menace? Boris should be out telling the world how great Britain is, how we defeated slavery and Nazism and don’t need to apologise to anyone for our history. No one could do it better in my opinion.

Last edited 4 months ago by Matt M
Claire D
Claire D
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Good points.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

He doesn’t do detail though. Thatcher certainly did. He’ll keep making mistakes because he can’t be arsed to study the issues carefully and people are tiring of blustering rhetoric.

Matt M
Matt M
4 months ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

Yes that is the worry – an endless sequence of unforced errors.

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

I recognise his achievements but as with Churchill in 1945… It’s time.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
4 months ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

Is this because he cannot attract a good team around him?Cummings appears an odd mix imagination and impracaticality and is emotionally unstable. Dowding who createed an integrated air defence system from 1936 mastered the large picture and the minutest of details. He knew exactly what was important and what were the priorities at any time. As one historian said in the Battle of Britain it is impossible to find a situation where a better decison could have been made.
Does Britain want people with the qualities of Dowding because if we do, then we have to change who we promote and reward? At the moment Britain rewards shallow and superficial charlatans in preference to those who have the depth and breadth of knowledge, experience and ability of Dowding.

Matt M
Matt M
4 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

I love that historian’s verdict on Dowding. Someone I must read up on.

Karl Francis
Karl Francis
4 months ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

True.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

“Winston drank champagne” – I can’t remember any mention of Wines and Spirits in any of our ration books.

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

“Who better to defeat the woke menace” Not while he is married to Carrie.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Totally agree Matt. He is indeed a liability, but his very flaws is what got Brexit through and dealt with Covid so we’re average. The political activists want rid of him, on both sides, and they need to be careful they don’t welcome back Remainers with a rejoin policy. That’s why I want to see Johnson in place until the next election as, like you say, he is our great communicator. He connects with voters more than anyone else – polls may suggest he’s losing support, but polls ain’t elections.

Last edited 4 months ago by Ian Stewart
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
4 months ago
Reply to  Claire D

I have complete, unvarnished and utter contempt for a very large percentage of ” the coronaphobe “pipl, and their craven desire to be told what to do by pointy shod, polyester clad, white drip dry shirted excuse for politicians

Karl Francis
Karl Francis
4 months ago
Reply to  Claire D

Very fair assessment. ‘Contempt’ is indeed the word. The only thing that might save Boris now is the sheer fear of woke labour.
But that might not be enough this time.
What a mess.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
4 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Hear hear!!

Kal Bevan
Kal Bevan
4 months ago

I wonder how much ‘jilted’ Cummings would have said about this if Boris hadn’t dismissed him? In his obsession with destroying the PM in retaliation he seems to have forgotten that he broke the rules too….

Matt M
Matt M
4 months ago
Reply to  Kal Bevan

And that the PM spent a lot of political capital defending him when he did break them.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

… and then allowed his wife to sack him… what a mess.

Andy Moore
Andy Moore
4 months ago
Reply to  Kal Bevan

Cummings is just as bad as Johnson, however this latest fiasco is purely on the latter.
In December he said he was shocked and angered about the party revelations, he even implied that he might have been misled and he was getting a top civil servant to investigate. Roll forward a few weeks and we find out that he’s told another lie. He has lied that much he’s dug himself into a hole. Time he went and hopefully we will get a conservative to take his place.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
4 months ago
Reply to  Kal Bevan

Cummings has gone from genius to psycho in pretty short order.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
4 months ago

Hypocrisy schmichocrisy…. the thing I want to highlight is the lack of fear among the fear-mongers: Ferguson and Hancock exchanging fluids with women who have other partners and children; elite types at events unmasked until the cameras come out while the waiting staff remain muzzled at all times; world leaders glad-handing at G7s and the like… But now above all fat Bl*wJ*b who, just a short time after barely cheating death at the hands of the Vid, attending a gathering of tens of people. They are not afraid? Why not? And why are we?

Last edited 4 months ago by Martin Smith
Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
4 months ago

Thank you Adam. A concise, readable, snark-free presentation of the primary legal considerations – very welcome.

Last edited 4 months ago by Dustin Needle
al.barrister
al.barrister
4 months ago

Nonsense. It was almost certainly not illegal.

René Descartes
René Descartes
4 months ago

Only a stupid rule could have prevented Downing Street staff (who presumably worked together anyway) from relaxing together safely outdoors where the risk of covid transmission was negligible. Of course it was careless of Boris not to realise the political dangers of walking into his own back garden at the time to socialise with them for 25 minutes – but it was hardly a resigning offence. Far worse is the reputational damage inflicted by the revelation of their predilection for sausage rolls.

Last edited 4 months ago by René Descartes
Iris C
Iris C
4 months ago

It happened in the secluded garden which was immediately outside the offices where the staff mingled. Is it the fact that they were enjoying themselves the issue? Killjoy!

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
4 months ago
Reply to  Iris C

In as far as I was not allowed (by rules imposed by them) to enjoy myself in similar manner in my secluded garden, yes!

Last edited 4 months ago by Martin Smith
Roger Sandilands
Roger Sandilands
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

Yes, but your secluded garden was not adjacent (indeed part of) your workplace where you have been working alongside scores of others with whom you were already legally mixing, albeit socially distancing where possible. Michael Fabricant explained the details two or three days ago, but it got little coverage. Furthermore, the event took place at the end of normal working hours, and no-one has been able to show that the people left drunk, l alone that they returned to their offices drunk. Iris C was right about the killjoy element. And I am sick of the whingers who have been lining up on the biased BBC to relate how they lost someone that day while the PM was supposedly ‘boozing’. I probably had a couple of drinks that day too.

Sarah Johnson
Sarah Johnson
4 months ago

Really worried by the number of people defending BoJo in these comments. He and his ministers wrote those draconian rules! His government decided to ban everything up to and including outdoor picnics, which were and are extremely safe. Remember the two ladies who got fined for walking together while carrying tea?

I would happily defend anyone else who broke the rules – I broke a few myself – but never the bastards that wrote them. If BoJo thought garden parties were fine, why the hell couldn’t the rest of us have them too? If he thought they were unsafe, why did he permit them in his own garden? How dare he demand that the rest of us make sacrifices which he wasn’t willing to make himself?

Boris must resign, and in a just world he’d get a criminal record too.

deepsouthdiary
deepsouthdiary
4 months ago

x

Last edited 4 months ago by deepsouthdiary
René Descartes
René Descartes
4 months ago

You say ‘some attendees would be highly likely to be convicted’. Absolute nonsense. If you had been paying any attention to police policy re breaches of covid rules you would be aware that the aim has always been to get people to cooperate and not to prosecute on a first ‘offence’ and certainly never without giving people a chance to correct their supposedly errant behaviour. As a self-confessed barrister, you ought to know better.

Last edited 4 months ago by René Descartes
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
4 months ago

Frankly, who gives a sh..? Nu lower middle class britn has an almost peverse desire, like an entire country comprised of box ticking ” in to outray” gutless, amoral, wage slave, jobsworth clerks to be told what to do by ” the boss/ line manager” and bask in the resultant approval, in exchange for the end of month salary transfer… pass the vomit pail Mr and Ms. Toylitte….