Partygate: Timeline of a national scandal that may finally be over

The leaked footage of a mock press conference in Number 10 saw the stories of Downing Street parties instantly erupt into a national scandal. Credit: PA

It's a scandal that began inside Number 10 in mid 2020, erupted with a leaked video tape, ultimately toppled a prime minister and - after almost three years - has finally come to a conclusion.

Partygate sensationally revealed the boozy lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street, exposed Number 10 denials as lies and fatally damaged Boris Johnson’s premiership.

Now, after a lengthy committee process, a damning report has found that Boris Johnson deliberately mislead MPs with his denials over partygate.

Mr Johnson has since hit out at what he called a “deranged conclusion”, accusing the Tory-majority group of MPs he has repeatedly sought to disparage of lying.

The Partygate: The Inside Story podcast brings you fresh revelations and our whistleblowers in their own words in the definitive behind-closed-doors story of how ITV News uncovered one of the biggest scandals of our era.

Here is a reminder of how the timeline of dramatic events played out…

May 15, 2020: Cheese and wine in the Downing Street garden

Then prime minister Boris Johnson is photographed sitting with his wife Carrie and Downing Street staff at a table with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard in the Downing Street garden. At the time people could not legally leave their house without a reasonable excuse and could only meet one person outside of your household.

May 20, 2020: Bring Your Own Booze party

A email - later to be exclusively revealed by ITV News - showed No 10 staff were invited to “bring your own booze” to an event in the Downing Street garden.

Mr Johnson has admitted he was there for 25 minutes but said he thought it was a “work event” to thank staff for their efforts during the pandemic.

Outdoor gatherings with multiple people from other households were not allowed at the time.

June 18, 2020: Cabinet Office leaving do

A gathering in the 70 Whitehall building was held to mark the departure of a No 10 private secretary with around 20 people thought to have attended and alcohol being consumed.

At that time people were only allowed to meet outdoors in groups of up to six, as long as they remained two metres apart.

June 19, 2020: Boris Johnson’s 56th birthday

Downing Street staff gathered in the Cabinet Room in what was reportedly a surprise get-together for the then prime minister organised by Carrie Johnson.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak was also present at Boris Johnson's birthday party. Credit: Sue Gray report

Those in attendance included Lulu Lytle, the interior designer working on the Johnsons’ Downing Street flat, and the then-chancellor Rishi Sunak.

The law at the time prohibited two or more people from different households being indoors at the same time.

However, No 10 has denied a report that, later the same evening, family and friends were hosted upstairs to celebrate the occasion. ITV News has stood by its reporting that an event did take place, though it was never investigated by Sue Gray or the police.

November 13, 2020: PM's leaving do speech and Downing Street flat do

Boris Johnson gave a leaving speech at a boozy gathering for the departing Lee Cain, his then director of communications.

One source at the party later told ITV News that Mr Johnson joked that the staff were attending “the most unsocially distanced party in the UK right now.”

At the time organisers of large gatherings of more than 30 people could have been fined £10,000.

Boris Johnson was seen giving a toast at a leaving do for Lee Cain. Credit: Sue Gray report

Later that day Carrie Johnson reportedly hosted a party in the official flat over No 11 where she and her husband lived to mark controversial Downing Street aide Dominic Cummings’ acrimonious departure. A spokesperson for Mrs Johnson called the claim “total nonsense”.

But reports have since suggested that Mr Johnson was seen heading up to the flat on the night in question, with the Mail On Sunday stating that Abba songs, including The Winner Takes It All, were heard coming from the residence.

It came eight days after a second national lockdown for England began, with people ordered to stay at home during this period and only leave under a limited number of exceptions, not including gatherings. Different households were banned from mixing indoors or in private gardens, unless in a support bubble.

December 10, 2020: Gavin Williamson throws a party

Gavin Williamson threw a party and delivered a thank you speech to staff at the Department  of Education while London was under Tier 2 restrictions. Food and alcohol was available to buy at the gathering in the department’s cafe, which lasted around an hour.

December 15, 2020: Online Christmas quiz in No 10

Boris Johnson took part in a virtual Christmas quiz for Number 10 staff. He appeared on screen sitting between two colleagues.

Rules in London at the time prevented two or more people from different households from getting together indoors unless it was “reasonably necessary” for work purposes.

December 17, 2020: Three parties in one day

Leaving drinks were held for the former director-general of the government’s Covid Taskforce, Kate Josephs, in the Cabinet Office. She later said she was “truly sorry”.

Separately at the Cabinet Office, staff gathered for what was listed in digital calendars as a “Christmas party!” and included another online quiz. It was organised by a private secretary in Cabinet Secretary Simon Case’s team.

Mr Case later removed himself from the inquiry into Whitehall parties after reports of this gathering emerged. The Cabinet Office said Mr Case played no part in the event “but walked through the team’s office on the way to his own”.

Finally, on the same day, a leaving do was reportedly held for a departing Downing Street official. The Mirror, which first reported the event before the police investigation began, said the prime minister was only there “for a few minutes”.

December 18, 2020: Downing Street Christmas party

Officials and advisers reportedly made speeches, enjoyed a cheese board, drank together and exchanged Secret Santa gifts, at a Christmas Party which would later become one of the defining illegal events in the scandal. Boris Johnson is not thought to have attended.

On the same night, a silent alarm was accidentally pressed inside Number 10 which triggered an automatic response from police stationed in Downing Street. Police attended the building while a party was in full swing but no action was taken.

December 19, 2020: Boris Johnson cancels Christmas

“It is with a very heavy heart I must tell you that we cannot continue with Christmas as planned,” the prime minister said, announcing a new lockdown in London and south-east England in what was termed ‘Tier 4’ restrictions.

It prevented people from mixing with other households and forced non-essential shops to close until the end of December.

December 22, 2020: Downing Street’s mock news conference

Four days after the staff Christmas party, Downing Street press officials are looking to explain it away as “cheese and wine” or a “business meeting” at a mock press conference. 

Mr Johnson’s then-spokesperson, Allegra Stratton, joked in a Q&A exchange with colleagues about a “fictional party” which she accepted was “not socially distanced”.

January 14, 2021: More Downing Street leaving drinks

A gathering is said to have been held in No 10 to mark the departure of two private secretaries, a week after national restrictions were reinstated, including a fresh ban on gatherings. Police could issue fines starting at £200 in England for those breaking the rules.

April 16, 2021: Debauchery on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral

The night before the Queen sat alone at the funeral of her husband of more than 70 years, in compliance with Covid rules at the time, two raucous leaving dos were held in No 10.

Downing Street later apologised to Buckingham Palace after reported details emerged of boozy drinks parties, which spilled out into the Downing Street garden. A swing belonging to the PM’s son was broken on the night.

At the time socialising indoors with people from other households was not allowed and meeting others outdoors was limited to groups of six people or two households.

November 30, 2021: The first claims of parties emerges

The Daily Mirror’s Pippa Crerar first reported claims of parties in Downing Street the year before. Her report detailed three gatherings in total, in November and December, while London was under Tier 3 restrictions, including the Number 10 Christmas party.

The story is met in the following days by a series of denials from Boris Johnson, Number 10 and leading Cabinet ministers.

December 7, 2021: Number 10’s notorious mock press conference is exposed

ITV News’s UK Editor Paul Brand broadcasts the exclusive damning footage of Allegra Stratton’s mock press conference from December 2020, erupting the stories of parties into a national scandal.

December 8, 2021: Boris Johnson denies any wrongdoing

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson apologises for the “offence (the video) has caused” and “the impression it gives” but adds he has been “repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”.

Asked by Labour MP Catherine West whether there was a party in Downing Street on 13 November 2020, Mr Johnson replied: “No, but I am sure that whatever happened, the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.”

Later that day, Allegra Stratton resigned from her position, saying: “My remarks seemed to make light of the rules. … I will regret those remarks for the rest of my days and I offer my profound apologies to all of you at home for them.”

Boris Johnson confirms a Cabinet Office investigation will examine claims of a single Christmas Party in Whitehall.

December 17, 2021: Simon Case steps down from the Cabinet investigation

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case steps down from the internal investigation as details of the party held in his own office emerge. He is later replaced by Sue Gray.

January 10, 2022: ITV News reveals the BYOB email

ITV News broadcasts the email proving Downing Street staff held a drinks party at the height of lockdown “to make the most of the lovely weather”, adding “bring your own booze!”.

The email was sent by the Prime Minister's Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds to more than 100 employees in Number 10, including the Prime Minister's advisors, speechwriters and door staff.

ITV News understands around 40 staff gathered in the garden that evening, eating picnic food and drinking. Crucially, they included the Prime Minister and his wife Carrie Johnson.

January 14, 2022: Downing Street apologises to the Queen

Downing Street issued a written apology to Buckingham Palace after details emerged of staff partying into the early hours before Prince Philip's funeral.

A spokesperson for the PM said it was "deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning".

January 25, 2022: ITV News reveals Boris Johnson’s birthday celebration

Downing Street conceded staff “gathered briefly” in the Cabinet Room following a meeting to mark Boris Johnson’s birthday on June 19, 2020.

It was alleged 30 people attended and shared cake despite social mixing indoors being banned.

ITV News reported the Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, had organised the surprise get-together complete with a chorus of “happy birthday”.

On the same day, Met Commissioner Cressida Dick confirmed Scotland Yard would investigate having received evidence from Sue Gray’s inquiry on alleged parties at Downing Street and Whitehall. The move delayed Ms Gray’s report’s publication.

January 31, 2022: Sue Gray issues redacted report

Sue Gray issues her initial, highly redacted, findings into rule-breaking in Number 10 and Whitehall. She finds there have been failures of leadership and judgment" under Boris Johnson’s watch.

The report also condemned a "serious failure" in Downing Street to observe coronavirus standards and said "a number" of gatherings should not have been allowed to take place.

February 22, 2022: ITV News obtains partygate police questionnaires

A partygate questionnaire leaked to ITV News reveals Downing Street staff have been asked by police to provide a “lawful exception” or “reasonable excuse” for parties which took place during lockdown.

The leaked questionnaire.

The questionnaires - sent to those suspected of breaking Covid regulations by attending gatherings at the height of the pandemic - form part of the evidence the Metropolitan Police is gathering as part of its investigation into potential law-breaking on Downing Street.

March 29, 2022: The first Number 10 fines are issued

The Metropolitan Police issues its first batch of fines, proving rules had been broken inside Number 10 and that the PM had thus misled Parliament.

Boris Johnson was not among the first group of Downing Street officials to receive a fixed penalty notice.

April 12, 2022: Johnson becomes the first PM fined for breaking the law in office

Boris Johnson, his wife Carrie Johnson and the then chancellor Rishi Sunak are among staff receiving £50 fines for the party held on June 19, 2020, to mark Mr Johnson’s 56th birthday.

Mr Johnson becomes the first serving prime minister to have been found to have broken the law.

April 21, 2022: Johnson to face third partygate investigation

Boris Johnson learns he will face a third partygate probe after MPs agreed the Privileges Committee should investigate whether he misled Parliament with his repeated denials about Downing Street parties during the coronavirus lockdown.

There was no need for the Commons to hold a vote whether to launch an investigation as the motion went through without opposition.

It followed a damaging debate for Mr Johnson with several Tory MPs using their time in the Commons to call on the prime minister to resign.May 6, 2022: Starmer faces ‘beergate’ investigation

Durham Constabulary announce Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is to be investigated by police over allegations he broke lockdown rules.

Sir Keir came under pressure after footage emerged of him drinking a beer with reportedly up to 30 colleagues at a constituency office in Durham in April 2021 during campaigning for the Hartlepool by-election.

He denied breaching the rules but vowed to resign if fined. Durham Police later confirm after investigation it will take no action.

May 19, 2022: 10 Downing Street becomes the UK’s most law-breaking address

Police tell Boris Johnson he faces no further action over lockdown breaches after the Met said its partygate investigation had concluded and 126 fines have been issued.

The Met said 83 people were fined in total: 53 fixed penalty notices were issued to 35 men and 73 FPNs to 48 women.

A total of 28 people received between two and five fines through Operation Hillman - which cost the Met Police £460,000 to carry out.

It made 10 Downing Street the most law-breaking address in the country during lockdown.

May 23, 2022: ITV News reveals photo of Boris Johnson toast

ITV News obtained pictures showing Boris Johnson raising a glass at a leaving party on 13th November 2020, with bottles of alcohol and party food on the table in front of him.

The photos cast fresh doubt on the prime minister’s claims that he was unaware of rule-breaking in Downing Street during the pandemic.

In several of the photographs, Boris Johnson appears to be making a speech and raising a toast, with half a glass of fizz in his hands.

May 25, 2022: Sue Gray delivers devastating full report

Sue Gray’s full report verifies ITV News reporting, detailing the full extent of misbehaviour inside Number 10 and many errors of judgement surrounding the parties.

Among the most shocking findings were Number 10’s then head of ethics supplying a karaoke machine for an event where one partygoer threw up from drinking so much and two others got involved in some kind of fight.

It also revealed the last person left a party at 4.20am on the day of Prince Phillip’s funeral and at several gatherings staff were rude to security and cleaning staff, who were left to remove vomit and wine spills down walls.

And after sending the infamous bring your own booze party, the PM’s key advisor Martin Reynolds boasted to a colleague: “We seem to have got away with it.”

June 6, 2022: Boris Johnson narrowly wins no-confidence vote

After mounting anger at his performance in office, Boris Johnson faces a vote of no confidence.

Some 211 of the 359 Conservative MPs (58.8%) vote in support of Johnson and (41.2%) of MPs vote they no longer had confidence in him.

He thus ultimately retains the support of a majority of his colleagues in Parliament but is badly weakened by the sizeable rebellion.

July 7, 2022: Boris Johnson resigns as prime minister

A widening ethics scandal facing the prime minister finally ends with his resignation.

It follows a huge rebellion involving a wave of government resignations and a revolt from his own Cabinet, led by then-chancellor Rishi Sunak and then-health secretary Sajid Javid.

Mr Johnson is punished for his mishandling of allegations against his chief whip Chris Pincher and doubts surrounding his decision making and Number 10's claims on the matter.

Mr Javid directly cites Number 10’s wrongful briefings to ministers dating back to partygate as proof Mr Johnson could no longer serve as leader.

October 21, 2022: Boris Johnson warned of damning new evidence

Boris Johnson’s attempt to launch a bid to return as prime minister following Liz Truss’s ill-fated 44 days in office appears to stall.

Conservative sources claim that if Mr Johnson succeeds in regaining office he could be ‘gone by Christmas’, due to damning new evidence about the partygate scandal. 

Several people familiar with the Privileges Committee’s investigation into whether Boris Johnson misled MPs over parties in No10 spoke to ITV News.

They say that a large amount of damaging evidence from inside No10 has already been handed over to Harriet Harman, who is chairing the inquiry. 

Mr Johnson ultimately withdraws from the race as Rishi Sunak becomes the year’s third Conservative prime minister.

January 11, 2023: ITV News podcast reveals more damning details

ITV News reveals Boris Johnson joked to Downing Street staff “this is the most unsocially distanced party in the UK right now”, during a boozy Number 10 leaving do.

The claim, aired by a source on Partygate: The Inside Story, brings into fresh doubt Mr Johnson’s long-held position that he was unaware rules had been broken within Number 10 during the pandemic lockdown.

When ITV News put the direct quote to Mr Johnson he did not deny saying it.

Sources also allege staff deliberately destroyed evidence of partying before the Sue Gray and Met Police investigations. The Cabinet Office offered no direct reply, but did confirm: “At all times staff were given clear guidance to retain any relevant information and co-operate fully with the investigation.”

The date for Mr Johnson to appear before MPs at a Commons standards committee remains to be confirmed.

March 21, 2023: Boris Johnson releases 52-page partygate defence dossier

Boris Johnson passed to the Privileges Committee a 52-page document, which offered his version of events and defence as to whether he intentionally misled Parliament.

The dossier - produced by a tax-payer funded legal team said to cost over £200,000 - was released ahead of the former PM facing a four-hour grilling over the allegations.

Mr Johnson said he accepted he misled the House of Commons when he said lockdown rules had been followed in No 10, but insisted the statements were made "in good faith".

According to his evidence, "there is no evidence at all that supports an allegation that I intentionally or recklessly misled the House".

He also defended attending leaving parties in Downing Street, saying: "I might raise a glass to honour a colleague, but that was it."

The Privileges Committee, however, said Mr Johnson's written submission "contains no new documentary evidence".

March 22, 2023: Boris Johnson appears in front of Privileges Committee

Boris Johnson appears in front of the Privileges Committee to be questioned on if he knowingly misled Parliament over partygate.

The televised event will last for four hours and give members of the committee the chance to put questions to the former prime minister; the outcome of which could determine his future as an MP.

June 9, 2023: Boris Johnson resigns as MP after accusing Commons investigation of attempting to "drive me out"

Boris Johnson has resigned as an MP after accusing a Commons investigation into whether he misled Parliament over partygate of attempting to “drive me out”.

In a statement to the media, the former prime minister compared the Privileges Committee probe to a "kangaroo court" as he announced his intention to step down as MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

The announcement came just hours after Rishi Sunak approved his resignation honours list, allowing Mr Johnson to bestow peerages and knighthoods upon dozens of his allies.June 15, 2023: Privileges Committee finds that Boris Johnson deliberately misled MPs over partygate

Boris Johnson committed “repeated contempts” of Parliament with his partygate denials that merited a 90-day suspension, according to a cross-party investigation.

The Privileges Committee’s recommended suspension for acts, including deliberately misleading MPs, would have paved the way for a by-election for the former prime minister if he had not resigned in anticipation.

Mr Johnson took a swipe at what he called a “deranged conclusion”, accusing the Tory-majority group of MPs he has repeatedly sought to disparage of lying.

He called the committee led by Labour veteran Harriet Harman “beneath contempt” and claimed its 14-month investigation had delivered “what is intended to be the final knife-thrust in a protracted political assassination”.

What did Boris Johnson really know about Downing Street’s notorious parties? With fresh revelations from our sources, in their own words, listen to the definitive behind-closed-doors story of one of the biggest scandals of our era.