A photo has emerged that appears to show British Prime Minister Boris Johnson drinking wine with Downing Street staff during the country's first coronavirus lockdown last year. The image, shared with British newspaper The Guardian, purports to show an outdoor gathering that took place on May 15, 2020. Staff can be seen gathered in the garden at Downing Street, which is also the Prime Minister's residence.
Johnson is photographed with then-fiancée Carrie Symonds and two others seated at a table. On the table are bottles of wine and a cheeseboard.
Four other members of staff are sat around a second table. Nine people are then gathered closely together around a table on the grass, with another two sat on the ground nearby.
Social distancing restrictions at the time meant that mixing between households was limited to two people, who could only meet outdoors and at a distance of at least 2 meters (6.5 feet). In workplaces, guidance said in-person meetings should only take place if "absolutely necessary."
Last Sunday, a Downing Street spokesperson responded to the image, saying, "Work meetings often take place in the Downing Street garden in the summer months. On this occasion there were staff meetings following a No. 10 press conference.""Downing Street is the Prime Minister's home as well as his workplace. The Prime Minister's wife lives in No. 10 and therefore also legitimately uses the garden."
Asked about the image on Monday, Mr Johnson told reporters: "Those were people at work, talking about work." Pressed on whether it was acceptable for people to be drinking whilst working, he replied: "I have said what I have to say about that."
The Guardian pointed out that, in the news conference on the same day as the photo, then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock had warned the public to stick to social distancing rules, despite the warm weather. At the time schools were still shut and pubs and restaurants were closed, with strict controls on social mixing.
“After the press conference, which finished at approximately 5.53pm, Matt debriefed his own team, then went to the Downing Street garden to debrief the prime minister. He left Downing Street at 6.32pm and went back to the Department for Health and Social Care,” Hancock’s spokesperson said. There is no suggestion he was drinking or stayed late.
The photo is the latest in a string of scandals surrounding Johnson in recent weeks. The British Prime Minister has been buffeted by multiple claims that social events were held inside 10 Downing Street in the runup to Christmas 2020, when the country was under coronavirus regulations that outlawed such activities. Johnson has insisted that he believes no rules were broken.