Civil servants are meant to be obscured from public view. But Martin Reynolds – the senior No 10 official who invited over 100 people to “socially distanced drinks” during the national lockdown in May 2020 – is now at the centre of a row that’s thrust him into the spotlight.
In an email leaked to ITV News, Reynolds told Downing Street staff on 20 May 2020 that it “would be nice to make the most of this lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks” in the No 10 garden. “Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!” he added. The same month, Reynolds was also reportedly pictured enjoying cheese and wine in the Downing Street garden with the Prime Minister – alongside Dominic Cummings and several other staff. At the time, government guidance said people could meet only one person who they didn’t live with outdoors.
As the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary (PPS), Reynolds plays a chief role advising Boris Johnson and leading the operation inside No 10. Cummings – who first released details about the garden gathering on 7 January – has written that the PPS “exercises far more influence and actual power over many issues than cabinet ministers,” adding that “he can nudge policy, he can nudge vital appointments”.
“He can and does walk into the PM’s office and exclude all political people ‘on security grounds’.”
After going to school in Oxford, the Cambridge graduate worked as a lawyer in the City before joining the Foreign Office and rising through the ranks to become principal private secretary to the foreign secretary in 2014 – a role he held when Boris Johnson headed the department from 2016 to 2018. Reynolds was then appointed as the UK’s ambassador to Libya.
The two weren’t apart for long: he spent only six months in Tripoli before Johnson appointed him as PPS to the Prime Minister in October 2019. He’s since played a leading role in coordinating the government’s response to the pandemic.
What now for Reynolds?
Today (11 January), a No 10 spokesperson said that Reynolds had the full confidence of the Prime Minister and will continue in his role, despite calls for him to resign. Nonetheless, there’s speculation that Reynolds will be moved to a senior diplomatic role, perhaps even an ambassadorship, as pressure from investigations mount. Reports suggest that such a move would allow Reynolds to become the “fall guy” for the fiasco.
But, as the pressure builds on Johnson, the removal of Reynolds may not suffice.