Dominic Cummings and Matt Hancock are revealed to be among government staff ‘working in Downing Street garden during lockdown’ when Boris and Carrie cheese and wine photo was taken – as hunt is launched for the ‘snappy rat’ who took it from Treasury window
The hunt is on for a Whitehall insider with an ‘animus’ against Boris Johnson suspected of leaking a picture of a get-together at No 10.
Dominic Raab said it was clear that whoever made the photograph public wanted to ‘damage the Government’.
The image of the garden gathering with wine and cheese, taken during the first national lockdown, was apparently taken from a first floor veranda at the back of No 11 Downing Street, where the Chancellor’s offices are.
Boris Johnson and staff pictured with wine in Downing Street garden in May 2020, during the first national lockdown
A No 10 source said that the office ‘was used by Rishi Sunak’s people, and anybody else going in would have been noticed.’
But the Treasury angrily denied it was responsible, with a source saying: ‘It was not anyone in the No 11 team. That room is accessible to anyone working in Downing Street.’
Now the hunt is on for the so-called ‘snappy rat’. The phrase is a play on the ‘chatty rat’ scandal, when someone leaked plans for a second national lockdown last year.
A ‘chatty pig’ was also accused of briefing against Mr Johnson after he made a speech praising Peppa Pig World.
The hunt is on for the so-called ‘snappy rat’. The Treasury angrily denied it was responsible, with a source saying: ‘It was not anyone in the No 11 team. That room is accessible to anyone working in Downing Street’
Amid a series of claims about parties at Downing Street and in Whitehall during lockdown, campaigners said the new photograph showed the Prime Minister ‘presided over a culture of believing that the rules applied only to other people since early in the pandemic’.
It was taken on Friday May 15, 2020, when people were only allowed to socialise outside with one other person, socially distanced.
Thousands could not see dying loved ones in hospital or relatives in care homes.
Last night Mr Johnson defended the gathering, saying: ‘This is where I live, this is where I work; Those were meetings of people at work, talking about work.’
Sources said the photograph was probably taken from one of the state rooms used by the Chancellor’s special advisers and civil servants. Former shadow chancellor Ed Balls claimed it was shot from ‘the 11 Downing Street first floor balcony’.
One Twitter user shared how she was banned from sitting with her mother in her garden shortly before she died in May 2020
Mr Raab, asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether he believed ‘someone or some group’ was ‘dripping out leaks to bring Boris Johnson down’, said ‘it’s certainly being done with an animus’ to ‘damage the government’.
The deputy prime minister added that the gathering was not a party because the attendees were wearing business suits.
He told Times Radio: ‘Downing Street used that garden as a place of work. They used it for work meetings.
‘The photo is from a day when, I think, the Prime Minister had just done a press conference.
‘And sometimes they’ll have a drink after a long day or a long week. And that’s not against the regulations.’
In reaction to the photo leak another person shared a photo of her son seeing his grandmother through a window last May
The photo, obtained by The Guardian, showed Mr Johnson, his then-fiancee Carrie and 17 staff members in the garden with bottles of wine and a cheese board on a table in front of the Prime Minister.
Mr Raab said: ‘It is not just a place of work for all the staff that work in No 10 and the Prime Minister, but it is also the residence of the Prime Minister and his very young family.’
Earlier on the day the photo was taken, then-health secretary Matt Hancock told the daily coronavirus briefing: ‘People can now spend time outdoors and exercise as often as you like – and you can meet one other person from outside your household in an outdoor, public place. But please keep two metres apart.’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said yesterday: ‘To suggest that that is a work meeting is a bit of a stretch by anybody’s analysis.
‘I think there are very serious questions to be answered, but just look at the photo and ask yourself: Is that a work meeting going on or is that a social event? I think the answer is pretty obvious.’
Jo Goodman, co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said: ‘This supposed work meeting, with no pen, paper or laptop in sight, instead replaced with vital cheese and wine, shows that [the Prime Minister] presided over a culture of believing that the rules applied only to other people since early in the pandemic.’
Twitter users contrasted the photo with their own stories of being separated from loved ones at the time.
One shared a picture of her son seeing his grandmother through a window, while another told how she was banned from sitting with her mother in her garden shortly before she died.
The gathering is one of about a dozen which reportedly took place across Whitehall despite coronavirus restrictions.
Senior civil servant Sue Gray is investigating reports of the parties.