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Downing Street parties: how many bottles of wine fit in a suitcase and other questions

By Kate Whanne
BBC news

image source, PA means

Hardly a day goes by without another revelation about the Downing Street parties during the Covid lockdown. Each new bomb leaves another crater of questions about what was happening, how was it allowed to happen, who knew and what will happen next?

Below, we attempt to answer these and other questions:

Why are we only learning parts now?

The first allegation of a government blocking meeting (so far) dates back to May 15, 2020. But reports on the parties only started appearing in the media in the winter of 2021.

Pippa Crerar of the Daily Mirror, who gave the news of two parties for the first time, in November, – said she first heard rumors about the Christmas holidays in January 2021, but was unable to confirm them until months later.

People leak stories to reporters for all sorts of reasons: to harm a political rival, for revenge, for fun. But without knowing the identity of the first leaker, it’s hard to say why they leaked and why they waited so long.

What we do know is that November’s first The Mirror story encouraged others to come forward with their own party experiences, and almost a month later, new stories are still emerging.

Were they business parties or social events?

Some have been social events, including the May 20, 2020 drinks that the prime minister attended, which this week brought his public apologies. How do we know? Because ITV got the email which had invited staff to “bring drinks” to “socially spaced drinks in garden # 10”.

However, Boris Johnson insisted “implicitly that this was a business event” by arguing that garden no. 10 was often used “as an extension of the office”.

There were also questions about the nature of an event on May 15th 2020. A photo published by the Guardian It shows about 19 people, including Mr. Johnson and his wife, sitting in the garden with bottles of wine and a cheese platter. The prime minister said this image showed “people at work, talking about work”.

Will we hear about more parties?

The number of stories floating around has led some to wonder if there was only one day during the pandemic when no party would be held at No. 10. At least 10 alleged rallies, in Downing Street or in government departments, have come to light, so far. If you are a detail person, here is the complete list

Will there be more? If the last month is something to do, then probably.

What can Sue Gray’s report cover and decide on?

Following the first reports of the parties, the prime minister has ordered an investigation to ascertain the facts.

Many Conservative MPs have said they will wait for the results of that investigation – led by top public official Sue Gray – before passing judgment on the prime minister. It is likely that Mrs Gray’s report is a largely factual account of the parties held in Downing Street.

Catherine Haddon, of the think tank Institute for Government, says Mrs. Gray is unlikely to assign individual blame, but his report “could refer disciplinary action to others”. It might touch on the role of prime minister, but it’s not up to Ms. Gray to judge his behavior, he adds, even though “nudes done alone” can be overwhelming.

Did the prime minister or others break the law?

Sue Gray cannot comment on the possible violation of the blocking laws, but the question is the key to the future of the prime minister. If the investigation uncovers evidence of potentially criminal behavior, it will be referred to the Metropolitan Police and the investigation suspended, according to his term of comparison.

What is Dominic Cummings’ role in all of this?

image source, Reuters
image caption,

Dominic Cummings – gamekeeper turned poacher

Partly accuser, partly accused.

The former prime minister’s senior aide turned massive thorn in the side was one of the first government figures to be accused of breaking Covid rules. He drove from London to County Durham at the height of the first block, later claiming the move was caused by security concerns.

More recently it has advanced accusations of violation of the rules in n. 10 during the pandemic, including write in a blog on drinks of 20 May 2020.

Mr. Cummings says he warned at the time that the event “appeared to be against the rules”.

Who was invited to the aperitif in the garden on May 20th?

image source, PA means
image caption,

Ventilation from the bucket load, even if that’s not the point: Downing Street Garden

An email from Mr. Johnson’s chief private secretary, Martin Reynolds, urging people to “make the most of the good weather,” was sent to a mailing list of about 100 people. But the full list of recipients was not published.

So why does it matter who was on the list?

Well, the names will show who knew about the party going on.

Could an invitation come out without the PM’s permission?

Downing Street said Mr. Johnson did not see the email inviting staff for a drink.

But many Westminster observers are skeptical.

On Tuesday, Caroline Slocock, who worked in the private offices of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, told BBC Radio 4 that it was “inconceivable” the Prime Minister was unaware of such an invitation, especially one from a staff member. narrow that used the word “we”.

Hannah White, of the Institute for Government think tank, former secretary of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said she believed the Prime Minister “should have known” of the event.

Who else attended the party?

One of the next steps is to find out who went to the rally, despite the lockdown. The BBC was informed by sources from Garden Drinks that around 30 people were present, along with the Prime Minister and his wife.

Who went to the party will be the key for the same reason as the invitation list, which shows who knew about the event.

Most importantly, the list of attendees will show who decided to break the rules – and perhaps the law – individually.

Could Mr. Johnson really not know of other parts under his own roof?

Downing Street itself is a complex series of interconnected houses transformed, over the years, into an unusual combination of living and working spaces.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak lives in the apartment above 10 Downing Street. Mr. Johnson, his wife Carrie and their two young children live in the larger apartment above No. 11.

Is it plausible that both men were unaware of crowds in the building that is both their home and workplace?

Can Downing Street staff drink at work?

The civil servant management code does not mention alcohol or prohibit drinking in the office.

Peter Caldwell – who served as government special adviser between 2016 and 2020 – told BBC News that before the pandemic he often drank in Downing Street on Friday nights.

BBC political correspondent Ben Wright, who wrote a book on the culture of drinking in Westminster, says alcohol “has run through the history of political life for centuries.”

“Drinking increases the euphoria of political success and numbs its delusions. It dissolves in moderation and unbalances excess.

“Prime ministers have been confronted with this for years, from port employee William Pitt the Younger, to Herbert Asquith, Winston Churchill, Wilson and even Tony Blair, who in his memoirs described alcohol as a” prop. “

How many bottles of wine can you put in a suitcase?

The last revelation – published by the Telegraph – includes the detail that staff would be sent to a nearby shop with a suitcase, which was reported “full of wine bottles”.

How many could there be? Following a very unscientific experiment – how big a suitcase after all – we found that we could hold about 30 bottles, or perhaps one Nebuchadnezzar, in a medium to large suitcase.

Although it would be less if I wanted to stuff the bottles to avoid breakage.

And would there be room for snacks? Sacrifice a bottle of wine for a pack of family-sized chips?

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