News, Culture & Society

PM’s top official fights for his job over new Number 10 party claims

Campaigners today called for one of Boris Johnson’s most senior Number 10 aides to be sacked after he invited Downing Street staff to ‘socially distanced drinks’ when England was subject to strict Covid rules.

The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group said ‘it’s blindingly obvious that Martin Reynolds has to go’.

But Downing Street said at lunchtime that Mr Johnson has ‘full confidence’ in Mr Reynolds and ‘Martin continues in his role’.   

Mr Reynolds, the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary, invited more than 100 Downing Street staff to an event in the Number 10 garden on May 20, 2020. 

An email obtained by ITV News showed he had invited staff to ‘make the most of the lovely weather’ and to ‘bring your own booze’. 

Messages shown to the BBC revealed that some Number 10 employees were shocked by the invite.  

One staff member who received the email wrote a message to another official at the time in which they said ‘is this for real?’. 

Another similar message, seen by the BBC, stated: ‘Um. Why is Martin encouraging a mass gathering in the garden?’ 

England was under tough coronavirus restrictions banning groups from meeting socially outdoors when the email was sent. 

The Metropolitan Police Service has confirmed it is ‘in contact with the Cabinet Office’ about the latest Number 10 ‘party’ claims. 

Martin Reynolds, the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary, invited more than 100 Downing Street staff to an event in the Number 10 garden on May 20, 2020

An email obtained by ITV News showed he had invited staff to 'make the most of the lovely weather' and to 'bring your own booze'

An email obtained by ITV News showed he had invited staff to ‘make the most of the lovely weather’ and to ‘bring your own booze’

Mr Reynolds was also photographed alongside Mr Johnson at a 'cheese and wine' gathering in the Number 10 garden on May 15, 2020

Mr Reynolds was also photographed alongside Mr Johnson at a ‘cheese and wine’ gathering in the Number 10 garden on May 15, 2020

Who is Martin Reynolds? A former ambassador who is one of Boris Johnson’s most senior aides 

Martin Reynolds is one of the most senior officials in Number 10 but had largely avoided the limelight until the emergence of his email inviting colleagues to ‘socially-distanced drinks’ during England’s first coronavirus lockdown.

As Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary he plays a key role advising the Prime Minister on a wide range of issues.

He served as the UK’s ambassador to Libya before being appointed to the role at the heart of Downing Street in October 2019.

The Cambridge graduate had previously served in a range of Foreign Office roles in Whitehall, South Africa and Brussels.

Before joining the Foreign Office, he was a City lawyer having studied at both Oxford University and Cambridge University. 

Mr Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings said the influence wielded by the principal private secretary within Downing Street was not widely appreciated.

‘The PPS exercises far more influence and actual power over many issues than Cabinet ministers,’ Mr Cummings said.

‘He can nudge policy, he can nudge vital appointments (real power). He can and does walk into the PM’s office and exclude all political people ‘on security grounds’.’

A leaked photograph of the Prime Minister and officials drinking in the Number 10 garden on May 15, 2020 – five days before the ‘bring your own booze’ event that Mr Reynolds invited colleagues to – showed the PPS sat at the same table as Mr Johnson.

Mr Cummings used a blog last week to defend the May 15 gathering – where he was pictured at the same table as Mr Reynolds, the Prime Minister and Carrie Johnson.

However, he said a ‘senior No10 official’ invited people to ‘socially-distanced drinks’ in the garden on May 20 – an apparent reference to the email sent by Mr Reynolds.

Mr Cummings said that he and ‘at least one other’ special adviser warned ‘this seemed to be against the rules and should not happen’.  

The claim of a ‘socially distanced drinks’ event being held in the Number 10 garden on May 20, 2020, was initially made by Dominic Cummings in a blog post published last week.

ITV News then published the email from Mr Reynolds last night, with the broadcaster reporting that approximately 40 staff had gathered in the garden on that evening. 

According to ITV, Mr Reynolds’ email to more than 100 Downing Street employees said: ‘Hi all, After what has been an incredibly busy period we thought it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No10 garden this evening. Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!’

Multiple reports have suggested the Prime Minister attended the event with his wife, Carrie Johnson.

The Conservative Party leader sidestepped questions yesterday about whether he attended the evening gathering allegedly organised by Mr Reynolds.

Sue Gray, a senior Cabinet Office official, is currently conducting a probe into a variety of allegations of rule-busting events in Whitehall during the pandemic, centred on an alleged Christmas ‘party’ in Number 10 on December 18, 2020.    

Number 10 has said it will not be commenting on the May 20, 2020, claims while Ms Gray carries out her inquiry.  

However, there is mounting pressure on Mr Johnson as the leaked email has reignited a furious political row over alleged rule-breaking. 

There are now growing questions over Mr Reynolds’ future. 

Asked at lunchtime if the civil servant is staying in his post, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said: ‘Yes. Martin continues in his role.’

Asked if Mr Johnson has ‘full confidence’ in Mr Reynolds, the spokesman said: ‘Yes.’ 

The spokesman would not be drawn on numerous questions about the event, telling reporters: ‘I think that the facts around these claims are rightly a matter for Sue Gray.’

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman told reporters yesterday morning – before the email was published yesterday evening – that Mr Reynolds was staying in his role. 

The spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister has full confidence in his team. There is no change in that post.’ 

Mr Reynolds was also photographed alongside Mr Johnson at a ‘cheese and wine’ gathering in the Number 10 garden on May 15, 2020. 

Downing Street has insisted that event was work-related and no rules were broken.

Some Government sources believe the leaked email will prompt Mr Reynolds’ exit from Number 10.  

One source told The Telegraph: ‘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 source said the invite was ‘ludicrous’ and ‘only a third’ of those invited ‘turned up’.  

Lobby Akinnola, from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, who lost his father Femi in April 2020, said: ‘It’s blindingly obvious that Martin Reynolds has to go. 

‘If the Prime Minister was at this party then his position would be untenable. He’d have lost all moral authority to lead the country, after breaking his own rules that the rest of us followed, often at great sacrifice.’

Labour is now calling on Mr Johnson to 'come clean' and to 'stop hiding behind' a Cabinet Office inquiry into allegations of rule-busting gatherings in Whitehall

Labour is now calling on Mr Johnson to ‘come clean’ and to ‘stop hiding behind’ a Cabinet Office inquiry into allegations of rule-busting gatherings in Whitehall

Mr Reynolds was appointed to the role of principal private secretary to the Prime Minister in October 2019.

He previously served as the Government’s ambassador to Libya and was the principal private secretary to the Foreign Secretary from December 2014 to January 2018. 

Mr Reynolds served as the deputy high commissioner in Pretoria from 2011 to 2014 and before that he held roles in the UK’s Permanent Representation to the EU, working in Brussels from 2006 to 2011.

He held a series of roles at the Foreign Office from 2002 to 2006 having also worked for the UK government in Singapore.

He started his career in the civil service with a role as desk officer for the Falkland Islands between 1997 and 1998. 

Mr Reynolds worked as a City lawyer before joining the Foreign Office, having studied at both Oxford University and Cambridge University. 

The PM’s spokesman yesterday refused to be drawn on reports that Mr Johnson had attended the May 20 event.

He said: ‘There is an independent process going on to look into this, led by Sue Gray, and I can’t comment further while that is taking place.’

The-then culture secretary Oliver Dowden used a Downing Street press conference on May 20, 2020, to remind the public they could ‘meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor, public place provided that you stay two metres apart’. 

Labour is now calling on Mr Johnson to ‘come clean’ and to ‘stop hiding behind’ Ms Gray’s inquiry. 

Angela Rayner, deputy Labour leader, said: ‘Boris Johnson’s deflections and distractions are no longer tenable.

‘Sue Gray is a highly respected civil servant who will be carrying out an investigation to the highest standard.

‘But the truth is out now. Not only did Boris Johnson know about the parties, he attended them and he lied.

‘It’s time for the Prime Minister to stop hiding behind Whitehall inquiries and finally come clean.’     

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