The WhatsApp messages and emails that revealed Covid rule breaking in Downing Street

Credit: PA/Handout

The Sue Gray report into lockdown-breaking parties held at the heart of government has finally been released, detailing the scant regard of rules No 10 officials had during the Covid pandemic.

From garden parties, to 'Wine time Fridays' and secret Santa and a quiz at an illegal Christmas party, we detail the WhatsApps and emails that reveal the Covid breaking in Downing Streets and across Whitehall.

20 May 2020 - Downing Street garden party

The garden party held on May 20, 2020 was held during the height of the Covid pandemic and while the UK was under a strict lockdown.

The suggestion of a party first came on May 13 from a No 10 official: “It’s meant to be nice weather next week so shall we try to do a socially distanced drinks in the garden.”

After an email was sent to book the garden, a member of the internal events team warned: "Just a reminder about the press conference so just be courteous with sound from 4-6pm.”

An ‘scheduler’ was sent by email was sent on behalf of Martin Reynolds – the prime minister’s principal private secretary – to 26 No 10 staff on May 20, 2020 about the “socially distanced drinks”.

A follow-up invitation was sent to the office of the then Cabinet Secretary by a No 10 official: “They start at 6 – would you be able to pass on the message to those in today please? Strictly your office though so we don’t end up with lots of people!”

An email invitation – which was leaked to ITV News exclusively in January – was sent to around 200 staff across Downing Street – along with special advisers in the Chancellor’s office and a separate invite to other senior officials.

The invitation from Mr Reynolds: "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 No10 garden this evening.

"Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!"

This email was sent by the prime minister's personal private secretary, inviting staff for drinks in the Number 10 garden. Credit: ITV News

The party on May 20 was held on the same day as a coronavirus press conference and a No 10 special adviser sent a message to Mr Reynolds warning him of this fact.

“Just to flag that the press conference will probably be finishing around that time, so helpful if people can be mindful of that as speakers and cameras are leaving, not walking around waving bottles of wine etc,” the WhatsApp read.

“Will do my best”, was Mr Reynolds reply.

The PM’s principal private secretary was warned about holding a drinks party during a pandemic and the “200 odd person invitation” by the then No 10 Director of Communications Lee Cain.

On May 20, 2020 - the day of the garden party - then Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told the public at a press briefing:

'You can meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor, public place provided that you stay two metres apart'

In an email, Mr Cain wrote: “I’m sure it will be fine and I applaud the gesture – but a 200 odd person invitation for drinks in the garden of no 10 is somewhat of a comms risk in the current environment.”

Mr Cain claims he spoke to Mr Reynolds and advised him the event should be cancelled – but the report says Mr Reynolds didn't recall the conversation.

The PM’s former special adviser Dominic Cummings said he too raised concerns about the party – but Ms Gray’s team said they found no evidence of this.

The day after the party, Mr Reynolds was applauded for organising the drinks and “for providing the wine”. He wrote to a special adviser: “Best of luck – a complete non story but better than them focusing on our drinks (which we seem to have got away with).”

Martin Reynold's message to a special adviser the day after the party. Credit: Handout

18 June 2020 – leaving party for a No 10 official

In an exchange of WhatsApp messages between Mr Cain and Mr Reynolds they spoke about organising a leaving drinks party to mark the departure of a No 10 official – who has not been named in the report.

“Is it safer to do a larger event indoors but with some people carrying on outside afterwards,” Mr Reynolds wrote.

Mr Cain responded: “I’m not sure it works at all to be honest, which would be a shame. I don’t see how we can have some kind of party though.”

“So you are saying nothing for [No 10 official (1)?,” Mr Reynolds replied.

“I think it’s your decision my friend, not mind (sic)! But it obviously comes with rather substantial comms risk," Mr Cain wrote.

The event on June 18 went ahead and Ms Gray notes in her report “lasted for a number of hours” with “excessive alcohol consumption by some individuals” – including one person throwing up and a "minor altercation" breaking out between two people.

At one stage at the party pizzas are ordered and a message in a No 10 WhatsApp group reads: “We’re in outer office of cab sec [Cabinet Secretary] with pizza.”

There were two stages of the party - the leaving do with speeches, which the PM's former adviser Mr Cummings and top civil servant Simon Case attended and the second part which took place from around 7.40pm - not all those who attended the initial leaving do stayed for the second part.

But those that did and were named in the report include Mr Reynolds, deputy principal private secretary Stuart Glassborrow, and Deputy Cabinet Secretary Helen MacNamara who brought a karaoke machine.

People start to trickle out from the party from 9pm – with the last member of staff leaving at 3am.

18 December 2020 – Christmas party

In December 2020 the UK was preparing for another lockdown, England was divided into tiers, social distancing was being urged and people banned from meeting indoors.

At the same time, a Christmas party was being held in No 10 Downing Street – complete with secret Santa and a quiz - attended by 45 people over the course of the evening.

ITV News published a video in December 2021 showing No 10 staff joking about said party, claiming “it was a (fictional) business meeting…that was not socially distanced.”

In a WhatsApp message sent on November 27, 2020 a No 10 official wrote “hey team – do you want to participate in press office secret Santa?” followed by a message saying “spending limit £10” and a further message which read “we will do gift exchange and cheese and (lots of) wine on 18th Dec.”

Ms Gray's investigation found that the press office had brought in wine on Fridays to mark the end of the week during the pandemic - known as 'Wine Time Fridays'.

In a WhatsApp discussion staff talked about getting a fridge for the office - with one staff member saying "looking forward to a chilled WTF [Wine Time Friday]" while another wrote "depending on how full it gets we can put Friday's cheese in there."

The event – dubbed ‘Wine & Cheese evening’ – went ahead and the plan was as follows:

  • 1630 people put out their cheese and Christmas treats

  • 1700 [No 10 Official] kicks off Secret Santa (if you’re alright with that [a No 10 official]? We can help give out the presents.

  • [No 10 Official] then gives out the quiz and gives people some time to do it before going through the answers

  • [No 10 Official] then does the weather game - we need to divide the office into two teams socially distanced along the long bank of desks for this we think

  • Then James [Slack] and Jack [Doyle] do a bit of a jokey highlights and low-lights of the year speech.

A email invitation was reissued as ‘End of Year Meeting with Wine & Cheese’ at 1.19pm on 18 December 2020 instead of ‘Wine & Cheese evening’.

The party began at 6pm and an 'awards ceremony' was held at 7.45pm with senior special adviser Jack Doyle gave out.

Later in the evening a panic alarm button was accidentally triggered and police officers on duty at No 10 responded and saw the number of people gathered inside.

Again Ms Gray notes that "some members of staff drank excessively" and the event was so noisy that people working elsewhere in the building heard the noise. The next morning a cleaner noted there had been red wine spilled.