On 18 December last year, when London was in tier three restrictions that made socialising illegal, Downing Street is alleged to have hosted a party that one source told the BBC was attended by “several dozen” people. Press secretary Allegra Stratton was filmed, days later, laughing with aides about the “cheese and wine… business meeting”, as she described it.
It’s the latest in a long line of lockdown breaches by politicians and senior civil servants, including…
March and April 2020: No sooner had lockdown rules been announced than Neil Ferguson, the epidemiologist and government adviser credited with producing the models that convinced Boris Johnson to introduce the rules in the first place, was breaking them. On 30 March (a week after lockdown was introduced), campaigner Antonia Staats travelled across London to visit Ferguson’s home. On the second occasion, she told friends her husband had Covid symptoms. Ferguson resigned from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies after the visits were revealed, saying he had “made an error of judgement”.
27 March 2020: Meanwhile, the visit that launched a thousand memes was taking place, as Dominic Cummings visited Barnard Castle. On 27 March, with his wife showing symptoms of Covid, Cummings drove to Durham to stay with his family. He later said he needed his parents to care for his four-year-old son. By 12 April, Cummings had had Covid and was cleared to go back to work – but was still, he said, having problems with his eyesight. “My wife was very worried, particularly given my eyesight seemed to have been affected by the disease,” he said. “She did not want to risk a nearly 300-mile drive with our child.” To “check” it, he drove to Barnard Castle, took a walk, and sat by the river for quarter of an hour. Cummings held on to his job after the “minor breach” was discovered – but by November 2020 he had resigned.
28 March 2020: Another politician accused of bending the rules early on was the Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, who travelled to his parents’ home in London to celebrate the 78th birthday of his father, the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, sitting on folding chairs 2 metres away from the doorstep. Officers from South Wales Police pointed out this was “not essential travel”, but Kinnock defended himself, saying he was delivering “necessary supplies”.
5 April 2020: Scotland’s chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, apologised and resigned after the Scottish Sun published photographs of her and her family in Earlsferry in Fife, 44 miles from her home in Edinburgh. At the time, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Calderwood had made a mistake, but should stay in her role – but Calderwood resigned, saying the “justifiable focus” on her actions was distracting from the pandemic response.
10 April 2020: The former housing secretary Robert Jenrick defended himself after he was spotted outside his parents’ home in Shropshire, 40 miles from his own house in Herefordshire. On Twitter, he said he had been delivering essentials “including medicines”.
14 July 2020: Much confusion over the wearing of face masks was created after Michael Gove was photographed in a branch of Pret A Manger without a mask, two days after he told TV viewers it is “basic good manners” to do so “if, for example, you are in a shop”. Admittedly, it was ten days before a rule making it compulsory to wear masks in shops came into effect, but it was still described as “destructive”. Happily, Gove learned his lesson: on 21 July, three days before the mask mandate came in, he was photographed wearing a mask while he bought a Pret coffee.
26-29 September 2020: SNP MP Margaret Ferrier was discovered to have travelled from her home to London to attend debates in the House of Commons while awaiting the results of a Covid test. Once the test came back positive, she travelled back home on the train, via Glasgow. Ferrier was not only suspended by the SNP, but was charged by police with having breached coronavirus restrictions. At a second hearing in October she was granted bail.
26/27 September 2020: Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn apologised after he and his wife were pictured at a dinner party for nine people – breaching rules that said only six people could gather. Fortunately for Corbyn, Scotland Yard said it wasn’t going to slap him with a £200 fine because it didn’t fine people retrospectively.
10 December 2020: Gavin Williamson held a “drinks and canapes” for staff at the Department for Education.
18 December 2020: With London in tier three restrictions, Downing Street held a Christmas party that, according to the Mirror, included a “yuletide quiz” and a Secret Santa. The next day, the Prime Minister announced a planned relaxation of lockdown rules would not go ahead, in effect cancelling Christmas for millions of people. On 22 December, press secretary Allegra Stratton held a mock press briefing. “What’s the answer?” she asked, when quizzed by an aide about the party.
6 May 2021: A nation squirmed as footage emerged of then-health secretary Matt Hancock in a “steamy clinch” with an adviser, Gina Coladangelo. The kiss (and that furtive glance down the corridor) took place in May this year, while meeting (and canoodling) indoors was still banned. By the end of June, Hancock had resigned as the health secretary.
12 November 2021: Boris Johnson caused outrage after pictures of him casually chatting to staff at Hexham General Hospital in Northumberland emerged: while the staff were all in full PPE, the PM was maskless. Bosses at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust scrambled to assure patients “infection prevention and control remains an utmost priority”, while deputy PM Dominic Raab did his very best to defend Johnson in media interviews: “Like many of us, we take the advice and guidance that we’ve got in different settings and that’s the right thing for us to do as politicians,” he said.