Downing Street staff attended two separate parties on the evening before Prince Philip’s funeral amid strict Covid rules that saw the Queen sit alone as she bade farewell to her husband of 73 years, it has been alleged.
The Daily Telegraph reported that two events were held on the evening of Friday 16 April 2021 – when the country was under step 2 coronavirus restrictions which banned indoor mixing.
Both events were said to be leaving parties for staff working in the prime minister’s inner team. One was reportedly held for James Slack, Boris Johnson’s then-director of communications, and the other for the prime minister’s personal photographer.
Witnesses told The Telegraph that “excessive alcohol” was drunk, attendees danced to music DJ’d by a special adviser, and the gatherings lasted beyond midnight.
The paper reported that the celebrations were initially held separately before merging later in the evening. Around 30 people were allegedly present across both parties.
For Mr Slack’s leaving drinks, The Telegraph said, colleagues began the party inside before moving to the Downing Street garden, while the second event was initially confined to the basement before that group also moved to the garden. A spokesperson told the paper Mr Johnson was not in No 10 on the day of the alleged gatherings.
At one point a staffer was sent to a local Co-op supermarket with a suitcase which they filled with bottles of wine before returning to the party, the report said.
Later in the evening, a colleague reportedly sat on a child’s swing belonging to Wilf Johnson, Mr Johnson’s son, and broke it.
Commenting on Mr Slack’s leaving event, a Downing Street spokesperson told The Independent: “On this individual’s last day he gave a farewell speech to thank each team for the work they had done to support him, both those who had to be in the office for work and on a screen for those working from home.” Mr Slack declined to comment when approached by The Telegraph.
The No 10 spokesperson would not comment on the claim of a separate leaving do on the same evening for Mr Johnson’s photographer.
Responding to reports that staff at 10 Downing Street were partying just hours before the Queen attended the Duke of Edinburgh’s socially-distanced funeral, Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey said: “The Queen sitting alone, mourning the loss of her husband, was the defining image of lockdown.
“Not because she is the Queen, but because she was just another person, mourning alone like too many others. Whilst she mourned, No 10 partied. Johnson must go.”
Step 2 restrictions which were in force at the time meant funerals, such as Prince Philip’s on 17 April, could go ahead, but with only 30 attendees.
People were urged to work from home “if you can” but rules on socialising with others were much stricter.
“You must not socialise indoors except with your household or support bubble,” the guidelines stated. “You can meet outdoors, including in gardens, in groups of six people or two households.”
For Philip’s funeral, guests were required to sit away from other households, but as the Queen had no family members – other than her husband – in her bubble, she was forced to sit alone.