Cabinet Office was warned parties were breaking law

Sue Gray’s report into lockdown-breaking parties will expose emails revealing widespread “premeditation” by civil servants and Downing Street staff who knew they were breaking the law.

Caroline Wheeler, Harry Yorke 

The revelation comes as it emerged yesterday that the latest Metropolitan Police questionnaires have been sent out, and relate to the leaving party of Lee Cain, the prime minister’s former director of communications, on November 13, 2020.

Gray’s report, on hold until Scotland Yard has completed its investigations, is expected to be highly critical of Boris Johnson for attending some events and for the culture in No 10 under his leadership.

A senior official familiar with the contents said the findings would be “difficult for everyone”.

One source has suggested the report will leave Johnson, who has already been fined for attending an event to mark his 56th birthday, with no option but to resign.

An official said: “The most shocking thing Sue’s report has uncovered is a series of emails which expose the extent to which the parties were premeditated and the rules were being wilfully broken. She is also concerned by the lack of contrition shown by those who have been found to have broken the rules.”

It is understood that the most egregious event in terms of premeditation was to mark the departure of Hannah Young, a No 10 private secretary. It took place on June 18, 2020, with 20 people gathering in a room close to the cabinet secretary’s office in 70 Whitehall and was described by officials as “raucous”. Last month it emerged that Helen MacNamara, the former director-general of the propriety and ethics team at the Cabinet Office, had attended and received a £50 fixed penalty notice.

It was also alleged that MacNamara had brought a karaoke machine to the gathering, which ended with a brawl between two staff.

It has now been claimed that an email exchange, details of which have been shared with this newspaper, showed that staff discussed the gathering in advance and were warned by officials that it might be a breach of the rules.

There was said to be a debate as to what type of room was best suited to hold a gathering while coronavirus restrictions were in place. The rooms in No 10, where Young had worked, were considered too small one source claimed. A second source provided an alternative explanation, alleging that Martin Reynolds, then Johnson’s principal private secretary, had been told by senior aides in No 10 that he could not organise an event there.

As the email exchange continued, one respondent is said to have questioned whether the event was a good idea. According to one familiar with the incident, they are said to have asked: “Is this wise?”

It was at this point that MacNamara is said to have stepped in and assured others on the email chain that she had resolved the issue. According to insiders, she gave approval for a room to be used in the Cabinet Office.

In the end, the event is believed to have begun in a communal area on the ground floor of the Cabinet Office, before “migrating” to a room close to the cabinet secretary’s office.

Gray is also understood to have copies of another email, which shows that a very senior official warned Reynolds against inviting 100 staff to a “bring your own booze” party in the No 10 garden on May 20, 2020. Police have started issuing fines for the party, which Johnson attended with Carrie Symonds, then his fiancée, and more than 50 Downing Street staff.