Boris Johnson was one of more than 100 staff members invited to a "bring your own booze" party in the Downing Street garden at the height of lockdown, it has emerged.
An email sent by the civil servant who runs the Prime Minister's private office was leaked to reporters on Monday, in a move that has placed Johnson under renewed pressure.
The email, sent by Martin Reynolds, the Prime Minister's Principal Private Secretary, invited staff to "make the most of the lovely weather" by attending a "socially distanced drinks" reception in the Number 10 garden.
Attendees were asked to join the gathering from 6pm, with the email sent on Reynolds' behalf encouraging them to "bring your own booze!", as first revealed by The Telegraph.
It was sent to more than 100 employees in No 10, including the Prime Minister's advisers, speechwriters and door staff. Sources claimed that approximately 40 people attended.
Sources said a number of Downing Street figures had branded the event a "mad idea" at the time, adding that Reynolds was the "gatekeeper" responsible for ensuring compliance with Covid rules in the building.
Private messages exchanged between No 10 staff at the time suggest several were alarmed at its tone, with one official asking: "Why is Martin encouraging a mass gathering in the garden?"
Seizing on the disclosure, Labour said the public could now see the evidence that "Boris Johnson's lies are catching up with him".
It came just hours after Johnson refused to deny claims made by witnesses that he and his wife had both attended the gathering, which took place five days after they were photographed at another event in the garden.
An email sent by the civil servant who runs the Prime Minister Boris Johnson's private office was leaked to reporters on Monday. Photo / AP
Pressed repeatedly during an interview in his constituency, Johnson said the issue was a matter for Sue Gray, the senior official leading an investigation into reports of lockdown-busting parties across Whitehall.
He also refused to comment on claims, reported by The Telegraph, that he would be hauled in for questioning by Gray as part of her probe, which is expected to report back by the end of the month.
Rules at the time banned gatherings
The gathering took place on May 20 2020, the same day that Oliver Dowden, then culture secretary, urged the public to only meet one other person outdoors at a Downing Street press conference.
The Metropolitan Police also issued advice to mark the hottest day of the year, urging people picnicking in parks, exercising or playing sports in public spaces to do so on their own, within their households, or with just one other person.
The following day, MPs and local officials in coastal towns across the country also berated tourists for flocking to beaches to enjoy the unusually warm weather.
It was not until June 1 that groups of up to six people were allowed to meet outdoors.
The email, which was obtained by ITV News, said: "Hi all. After what has been an incredibly busy period it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden this evening.
"Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!"
Unlike other leaks relating to gatherings during the pandemic, the email is particularly damaging for the Prime Minister because it appears to make clear the event was solely a social gathering.
Downing Street has insisted that other events, including the gathering Johnson was photographed at in the garden on May 15 2020, were informal and related to work.
On Monday Adam Wagner, a leading lawyer and expert on Covid regulations, said: "This looks unlikely to be legal for attendees. Being outside the home was illegal at the time unless (the only potentially relevant exception) it was for the need to work. 'Socially distanced drinks'/'BYOB' don't sound like work."
Angela Rayner, Labour's deputy leader, said: "It is terrible and I think many people that see the evidence now will not only think that Boris Johnson's lies are catching up with him, but will see it as absolutely despicable that when they were actually told to follow the rules, Boris Johnson and No 10 were breaking the rules.
"It is disgraceful and he should be ashamed."
On Monday, Liberal Democrat spokesman said the party planned to report the leaked email to the Metropolitan Police.
The force has previously said it does not typically investigate historic allegations that lockdown rules have been breached.
On Monday night, a Met spokesman said: "The Metropolitan Police Service is aware of widespread reporting relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at Downing Street on 20 May 2020 and is in contact with the Cabinet Office."
It is understood that the email will now form part of the official probe being carried out by Gray.
In recent days, her team has been asking a number of officials in No 10 about the use of the garden and the consumption of alcohol.
On Friday, she officially expanded her investigation to include the two gatherings in the garden after Dominic Cummings, the former No 10 senior adviser, said he had told Reynolds that he believed the event breached lockdown rules and should not go ahead.
Despite raising the issue, Cummings said he was "ignored".
Pressure on Martin Reynolds
Government sources said it appeared inevitable the leaked email would lead to Reynolds' departure, following reports over the weekend that No 10 has already approached three civil servants about replacing him.
One source said: "He's not a popular guy with officials. He has let down a lot of people. Loads of people at the time, including junior people, said it was a mad idea."
Another said: "He invited quite a few people and only a third of them turned up.
"It was ludicrous because we were under really strict orders at the time of how many people could be in rooms at the time. Martin's job was to enforce how many people could be in at meetings, who needed to be on Zoom.
"He was supposed to be the gatekeeper on Covid awareness. It was extremely out of step. For junior people it was a signal that we can crack on now."
However, speaking earlier in the day, the Prime Minister's spokesman denied that Reynolds was being moved to another post – telling reporters: "The Prime Minister has full confidence in his team. There is no change in that post."
- by Harry Yorke, Daily Telegraph UK