Boris Johnson’s official spokesman confirmed Martin Reynolds, the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary, “continues in his role” after ITV News revealed he invited employees to the gathering during England’s first lockdown in May 2020.
Asked whether Mr Johnson still had full confidence in one of his most senior aides, the spokesman said he did.
The leaked email, which came to light on Monday, 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 No 10 garden this evening.
“Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!”
Mr Johnson will avoid scrutiny over the allegation on Tuesday, as paymaster general Michael Ellis was instead dispatched to face an urgent question in the Commons.
Asked what the Prime Minister was doing rather than responding himself, the PM’s spokesman said: “I don’t have the full diary in front of me at the moment but it’s not uncommon, obviously, for Government ministers to answer these sorts of questions.”
Earlier today, Health Minister Edward Argar told the BBC: “I can entirely understand why people who’ve lost loved ones, or people who’ve just had their lives hugely disrupted by these restrictions, are angry and upset by these allegations.”
But he refused to be drawn on details of the May 20 2020 “socially distanced drinks”, insisting that it is a matter for the investigation into Whitehall parties being carried out by senior official Sue Gray.
He said “appropriate disciplinary action” should be taken if rules were broken – something that could prove incredibly awkward for the Prime Minister if he is found to have attended, as has been claimed by sources including former aide Dominic Cummings.
Mr Johnson refused to say whether he was at the event, when questioned by reporters on Monday.
Mr Argar said Ms Gray “can go with this investigation where she needs to, without fear or favour”, and said he hoped her findings would be published “swiftly”.
But former Scottish Tory leader Baroness Davidson tweeted: “This line won’t survive 48 hrs. Nobody needs an official to tell them if they were at a boozy shindig in their own garden.
“People are (rightly) furious. They sacrificed so much – visiting sick or grieving relatives, funerals. What tf were any of these people thinking?”
A spokesman for Scotland Yard said: “The Metropolitan Police Service is aware of widespread reporting relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at Downing Street on May 20 2020 and is in contact with the Cabinet Office.”
The latest row over Whitehall parties and Mr Johnson’s alleged attendance was seized on by Labour.
Sir Keir Starmer said: “Boris Johnson, your deflections and distractions are absurd.
“Not only did you know about the parties in Downing Street, you attended them.
“Stop lying to the British public. It’s time to finally come clean.”
Human rights lawyer Adam Wagner, who interprets coronavirus regulations for the public on Twitter, said the alleged event looked “unlikely to be legal for attendees”.
The Metropolitan Police had tweeted on the day of the alleged “bring your own booze” event, telling people they could have a picnic, exercise or do sport outside providing you are “on your own, with people you live with, or just you and one other person”.
Then-culture secretary Oliver Dowden used a Downing Street press conference that day 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”.
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