‘Partygate’ and ‘Beergate’: a timeline of the political scandals during Covid-19

The ‘Partygate’ and ‘Beergate’ scandals have been a big topic during today’s local elections, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer now being re-investigated by Durham Police for a potential lockdown breach.

This development has come not long after he called for Conservative leader Boris Johnson to resign after he was fined by police for such a breach.

The following is a timeline is a breakdown of the major moments in both incidents and the relevant Covid restrictions that were in place at the time of the respective scandals:

15 May 2020:

A photo emerges depicting the Prime Minister and his colleagues enjoying cheese and wine in a Downing Street garden.

At the time, government restrictions limited outside meetings between multiple households to two people – you and someone else – and they had to be for the purpose of exercise or work.

When pressed about the incident, Johnson insisted: “those people were at work talking about work.”

20 May 2020:

Witnesses allege that Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie were among the approximately 30 people in attendance to drinks in the garden of No. 10.

Johnson claimed he spent 25 minutes at the event before returning to his office and apologised to MPs for attending.

19 June 2020:

Up to 30 people gathered in the Cabinet Room at No. 10 on Boris Johnson’s birthday to give the prime minister a birthday cake and sing a verse of Happy Birthday, according to ITV News.

No 10 said staff had been there ‘for less than 10 minutes.’

16 April 2021:

Downing Street staff hold two parties at No 10, the night before Prince Philip’s funeral. Johnson was not at either party.

Government guidance on Covid had relaxed at this point, but socialising indoors was still prohibited, with outdoor meetings restriction by the rule of six, or to two households.

April 30 2021:

Sir Keir is pictured having a takeaway and drinking a beer indoors with colleagues, whilst campaigning for the Hartlepool by-election.

At the time, mixing indoors was strictly prohibited in England, unless it was for the purpose of work.

30 November 2021:

Reports emerge of the Downing Street Christmas party in December 2020.

A Daily Mail report claims that staff “were all getting totally plastered” at the event.

7 December 2021:

Footage is leaked of a mock Downing Street press conference in December 2020, shortly after the party.

In the video, the Prime Minister’s then press secretary Allegra Stratton joked, to much laughter, “It wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine.” “Is cheese and wine all right? It was a business meeting.”

She later resigned.

Sir Keir led calls for Johnson to “come clean and apologise,” calling on all those involved to step down.

11 January 2022:

Senior civil servant Sue Gray launches an investigation into the events of the December 2020 party.

24 January 2022:

Reports of Johnson’s lockdown birthday party emerge.

Calls for Johnson to resign, again led by Sir Keir, intensified.

12 April 2022:

Boris Johnson, his wife Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are notified that they will be fined for breaking lockdown rules following the conclusion of a Metropolitan Police investigation.

They are all understood to have been fined £50 each, as the fixed penalty notices were all paid within 14 days.

Johnson becomes the first sitting prime minister to receive a punishment for breaking the law.

13 April 2022:

The Prime Minister apologises after receiving his fixed penalty notice, announcing that he has paid the fine in full.

When asked if he would quit, Johnson replied: “I want to be able to get on and deliver the mandate that I have, but also to tackle the problems that the country must face right now.”

“I believe that it’s my job to get on and deliver for the people of this country and that is what I’m going to do.”

Howver, regarding the incident at his birthday party, Johnson reiterated: “in all frankness at that time it did not occur to me that this might have been a breach of the rules.”

After the fine, though, he conceded he “now humbly accepts” he was in fact in breach of Covid-19 laws.

6 May 2022:

Durham Police announce that Sir Keir will be re-investigated over ‘Beergate’ following the emergence of new footage of the incident dubbed as ‘Beergate’ in April 2021.

Labour and Sir Keir continue to maintain that no rules were broken.

This latest development comes after Labour claimed both Westminster, a Conservative stronghold since its creation in 1964, and Wandsworth, widely believed to be Margaret Thatcher’s favourite council – and run by the Tories since 1978 – in today’s local elections.

In addition to these relative surprises, Labour took their top London target in Barnet, with Starmer greeting supporters in the borough they narrowly failed to win in 2014.

Almost 150 councils held votes across England on Thursday, including 32 London boroughs.

Council seats were also contested in Scotland, Wales and the Northern Ireland assembly, where nationalists Sinn Féin could become the largest party for the first time in Northern Irish history.

All results in England, Scotland and Wales are expected to be known by Friday evening, although those in Northern Ireland are likely to carry through to Saturday.

Featured image credit: Andrew Parsons via Flickr

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