Downing Street staff drank alcohol into the early hours at two leaving events the night before Prince Philip’s socially distanced funeral, The Telegraph can reveal.
On the evening of Friday April 16 2021, Britain was in a period of public mourning. Union flags on Government buildings across Westminster hung at half mast to mark the passing of Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, the previous week.
With the country in step two of a strict lockdown roadmap, which barred indoor mixing, mourners were told not to leave flowers due to the Covid threat. A book of condolence was set up online to “reduce the risk of transmission” from physical signings.
In a private chapel in Windsor Castle the Prince’s coffin lay overnight. The next day the Queen, her face covered by a black mask, would say farewell to her husband of 73 years. With social distancing rules in force, she sat alone.
The atmosphere in Downing Street that Friday evening, however, was quite different. Advisers and civil servants gathered after work for two separate events to mark the departure of two colleagues.
One was James Slack, Mr Johnson’s director of communications. He had served two Tory prime ministers, a rare carry-over from the Theresa May days, but was leaving after four years to become deputy editor at The Sun newspaper. The other was one of Mr Johnson’s personal photographers.
Eye-witnesses have talked to The Telegraph about what happened. It is alleged that excessive alcohol was drunk, while at points, guests danced. The gatherings stretched late into the night – well beyond midnight, according to one source.
They were, according to one who was there, undeniably parties.
The revelation of the gatherings at the heart of the Government the night before the Duke’s funeral is problematic, not just because of the context of public grief, but because of the clearly defined Covid restrictions then in place.
The Government’s own guidance read: “You must not socialise indoors except with your household or support bubble. You can meet outdoors, including in gardens, in groups of six people or two households.”