The half-acre garden behind Number 10 Downing Street has often been the site for Prime Ministers to host events and official visits. Officials are currently investigating whether the L-shaped garden was the venue for a drinks party on May 20, 2020, while the rest of the UK was under strict rules not to socialise or leave their home without a “reasonable excuse”.
What do we know about Number 10’s alleged garden party?
The terrace and garden at Number 10 was first established in 1736 during the premiership of Sir Robert Walpole, and successive prime ministers have since left their mark on the garden.
The rose beds were commissioned by Margaret Thatcher, whereas Gordon Brown and Sarah Brown established a vegetable garden on the recommendation of Michelle Obama when she and Barack Obama visited in 2009.
However, the terrace and lawn behind Number 10 have never been the subject of such intense interest and scrutiny, since photographs of Number 10 staff and the Prime Minister himself enjoying wine and cheese in the Downing Street garden in May 2020 were published on December 19, 2021.
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Sue Gray, a senior civil servant, is investigating eight alleged parties held at Downing Street between May 2020 and April 2021.
An email obtained by ITV News shows Mr Johnson’s personal private secretary Martin Reynolds inviting 100 employees to “make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No10 garden”.
The email, sent on May 20, 2020, said: “Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!”
On this same day, Oliver Dowden MP hosted a press briefing reminding the British public they could only meet up with one person from outside their household in an outdoor public place and had to stay two metres apart.
It is now understood around 40 people gathered in the garden that same evening, including Mr Johnson and his wife, Carrie Johnson.
A photograph published by The Guardian shows Mr and Mrs Johnson sitting on the terrace, a glass of red wine sitting in front of them, and a cheese board on the table where two others joined the Prime Minister and his wife.
The damning photograph has become the subject of much interest, as it begs the question of who took the picture, and then decided to leak it to the Guardian?
Ed Balls, the former Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and former advisor to Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor, has spent much of his career in Number 11 Downing Street, the Chancellor’s residence and offices.
On December 19, 2021, Balls tweeted the photo, adding: “I’m pretty sure this is the view from the 11 Downing Street first floor balcony…”
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Looking at the map of Downing Street’s gardens, you can see Number 11 is positioned overlooking the terrace at a similar angle to where the photograph may have been taken.
Due to the L shape of the garden, it wraps around the back of Number 11 and Number 10 Downing Street with the far corner (in the top right of the map) backing on to 70 Whitehall, the Cabinet Office.
On the far side of the garden, large trees provide coverage and privacy.
Around 8,000 people work for the Prime Minister’s office and the Cabinet Office, while around a further 2,000 work for the Treasury.
However, not all of those employees would be based in the offices on Downing Street and Whitehall, and many may also have been working from home.
During a gruelling Prime Minister’s Questions last week, Boris Johnson admitted to spending “25 minutes” at what he claims he thought was a work event in the garden of Downing Street on May 20, 2020.
Mr Johnson said: “Number 10 is a big department with the garden as an extension of the office, which has been in constant use because of the role of fresh air and stopping the virus.
“When I went into that garden just after 6pm on May 20, 2020, to thank groups of staff, before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a work event.”
Across the dispatch box in the Houses of Commons, Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer branded the Prime Minister’s explanation as “so ridiculous that it is actually offensive to the British public” before demanding he “do the decent thing and resign”.