On 20 May 2020, Britain had been in lockdown for 58 days. Although rules had eased slightly days before, at the time you couldn’t visit a family member for a garden drink, and if you did venture out you could only see one friend if you stayed two meters away from them. Relatives who lived apart could not hug, and the police were still handing out fines for rule-breakers.
Now it seems clear that the government ministers dictating those rules were living by a different set altogether. Just an hour before the alleged Number 10 party organised by Boris Johnson’s Private Secretary, Martin Reynolds, to which around 40 guests were encouraged to ‘BYOB’, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden led the daily Coronavirus press briefing and reinforced the message to “stay alert by… keeping away from other people”.
On the same day as the party, the Met police released a video reminding the public that they could only spend time outside “on your own, with people you live with, or just you and one other person”.
Boris Johnson’s alleged attendance at the garden bash on 20 May throws a new light on his reaction when, days later, the story broke that his then-aide Dominic Cummings had driven from London to Durham while showing Covid symptoms at the start of the lockdown. Johnson insisted Cummings had “acted responsibly, and legally, and with integrity”. What else could he say? If the PM was busy partying like it’s 2019, he could hardly criticise his aide for flouting the rules they had created together.
Cummings, of course, was later forced to leave his role, albeit under a different pretext. Like Neil Ferguson, Allegra Stratton and Matt Hancock – who also left their roles after lockdown indiscretions – someone always has to carry the can. How long can it be until that can ends up in the Prime Minister’s hands?