I was seated in the Downing Street meeting room in the regular morning lobby on Tuesday 30th November 2021.
The government scientist Dr. Jenny Harries was on the radio right now and said she thinks people should “be careful and not socialize unless we absolutely have to” in the coming weeks.
But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman appeared to disagree, telling journalists that Harries “gives advice to the government, it’s not the government”.
I’d been working on Party Story #10 for about six weeks, but I knew right away that now was the time to get it across the line.
Covid made headlines again and we were in the run up to next Christmas. The public interest argument felt overwhelming.
The next morning we released our splash with the headline ‘Boris party broke Covid rules’ and the subtitle ‘No 10 hosted boozy bash while millions tolerated strict lockdown’.
We reported on two parties – one of which was the Christmas party on December 18, 2020, where up to 40 employees were crammed into a small room with wine and cheese, board games and a secret Santa Claus “corner to cheek”.
The second was a farewell, with the PM giving a speech and staff pouring back glasses of fizz.
Sources told me they were just two of “many gatherings” during lockdown and even suggested there were “always parties” at the flat Boris Johnson shares with his wife, adding: “Carrie is addicted to them “. These allegations were firmly denied by Ms Johnson.
But No. 10 didn’t dispute our other claims – just insisted no rules were broken.
There’s always that moment when you publish a story that you feel has the potential to have an impact that makes you slightly nauseous.
Some in Westminster were skeptical. “It’s a bubble story,” an insider told me. “It was a year ago. Not sure if it’s going anywhere,” added another.
At the PMQs, I sat in the press box flanked by two of my team members for moral support.
Labor leader Keir Starmer accused the Prime Minister of “taking the British public for a fool”.
Aides from Downing Street tied a knot afterwards. The networks made the story big, but the newspapers were more cautious.
But one by one, government insiders snuck up on me and urged me to keep digging as there was much more to discover.
After a week of government obfuscation, the story exploded when ITV received footage of Boris Johnson’s own team joking about the No10 staffer’s Christmas party.
It led to his senior associate, Allegra Stratton, dropping a tearful statement on her doorstep announcing she was quitting.
The Prime Minister – who said he was “disgusted and angry” at the video – was forced to announce an inquiry into the parties by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case.
We’ve continued to delve into the story – revealing two gatherings at Downing Street and one at the DfE – but others were to follow.
These included images of the Prime Minister taking a ‘virtual’ celebratory quiz in No 10 (although most participants were inside) with alcohol on his desk.
We also posted a picture of a Christmas party at CCHQ with a very dodgy looking buffet.
While the rest of the country followed lockdown rules.
The public hates double standards – and the Prime Minister’s personal ratings began to plummet.
For the next week, just after 4am, I was glued to my phone watching the results of the North Shropshire by-election roll in.
In a disastrous turn of events for the Tories, the Lib Dems took the previously true blue seat.
Dave Rushen/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock)
My phone started pinging shortly after, with Tory contacts lamenting how Boris Johnson had gotten lost in recent weeks and their opponents claiming “Partygate” had breached the scene.
More revelations followed – that the Prime Minister was attending a May 2020 gathering in Downing Street garden and, incredibly, that there was a party in Simon Case’s own office, making his role in overseeing the inquiry untenable.
Senior officer Sue Gray took over and expanded the investigation – leaving some in No 10 trembling in their boots.
Although the Mirror colleagues joke that I’ll never be invited to another party again, I love a good knee-high.
But we were worried the Omicron variant might ruin our Christmas so we canceled our social life, worked from home and tested daily for Covid.
Luckily, the caution paid off and my family was able to travel to Lancashire, then Scotland, for a week.
After Christmas, the list of rule-breaking lockdown parties continued to grow.
Former prime minister’s top adviser Dominic Cummings published a blog claiming the prime minister and dozens of staffers threw a BYOB party at Garden No. 10.
A few days later, an email – sent by the Prime Minister’s top official – was leaked inviting 200 staff to “make the most of the nice weather” and join in the celebrations. Tables were laden with booze and snacks as Mr Johnson, his wife Carrie and around 30 No 10 aides partied in the sunshine.
More allegations followed – we ran stories about “Wine Time Fridays”, employee #10 buying a drinks fridge, cases of liquor rolled in #10.
There were particularly shocking revelations that aid workers had been drinking at two farewell parties the night before the Queen sat alone at Prince Philip’s funeral.
It didn’t stop there.
A story about a lockdown birthday party organized by the Prime Minister’s wife in the Cabinet Room led to a bizarre row about being mugged by a cake.
We later revealed there were images of the Prime Minister toasting with a can of Estrella beer – taken by taxpayer-funded photographer #10.
And as more stories emerged, Mr Johnson’s responses evolved from “all instructions were followed at all times” to “I certainly didn’t break any rules”.
As Tory MPs’ email inboxes filled with letters from angry voters, the prime minister’s position began to look more precarious.
Rebel Red Wall Tory MPs plotted his ouster and filed letters of no confidence to try to spark a leadership contest. One told me: “His time is up”.
But the “pork pie plot” fizzled out after No. 10 launched a tough operation that sent out the Prime Minister’s enforcers to bring them back into line.
A week later, on January 25, the Met Police dropped a bombshell and announced they would investigate breaches of the Downing Street lockdown.
They asked Sue Gray to shelve her investigation – but not before she submitted a devastating interim report.
She revealed she watched a dozen events – including six PM attended herself.
And she slammed leadership failure, saying lockdown parties were “hard to justify” while the rest of the country followed the rules.
Months of speculation and frustration ensued as we tried to figure out what happened to the decidedly opaque police investigation.
The delay gave the prime minister time to back his position with angry MPs – and his renewed focus on Ukraine may have left a feeling that now is not the time to oust him.
Scotland Yard issued its first fines at the end of March and eventually reached a total of 126 fines imposed on 83 people at events over eight days.
Mr Johnson was handed a single fine for his surprise No 10 birthday party – to the surprise of many. He apologized and said he didn’t realize he broke any rules.
Rishi Sunak was also fined, the final nail in the coffin of the multimillionaire chancellor’s dreams of taking over the number 10 after a row over his wife’s tax rules.
Eventually, Scotland Yard announced that their four-month investigation was over and no more fines would be imposed on the Prime Minister.
The Oiled Piglet—so named for its ability to wriggle out of trouble—had escaped again.
No 10 insiders tell us the Prime Minister doesn’t want to spend another second on Partygate and move on.
But the damage to Boris Johnson’s reputation has been done.
Although the majority of Tory MPs have not sacked him, they do not support him either and remain nervous.
PRU/AFP via Getty Images)
Whether he deliberately misled Parliament is yet to be investigated by the Commons Privileges Committee.
And the most important judge of all – the public – made its decision long ago after polls showed a majority of voters believe he lied.
Speaking to Tory MPs last night, the Prime Minister told them the Partygate scandal had been like “holding a mirror up to the inner workings of No 10”, which he added was “always a bit painful”.
He can rest assured that this Mirror will continue to reflect what goes on behind Downing Street’s famous black door – painful for the Prime Minister or not.
https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/how-mirror-broke-partygate-scandal-27066982 How The Mirror broke the Partygate scandal that could still go down PM Boris Johnson