This is what the UK's lockdown looked like during No 10's 'garden gathering'

·6-min read
(PA)
Images from around 15 May 2020 paint a different picture than the one from the Downing Street garden. (PA/Getty)

The photograph of Boris Johnson and his Downing Street staff enjoying wine and cheese in the No 10 garden is in stark contrast to images taken around the UK at the same time.

The photo, from 15 May 2020 and published by The Guardian newspaper on Monday, shows the prime minister, his wife Carrie Symonds, who appears to be holding their newborn baby, and up to 17 staff in the Downing Street garden.

There appears to be wine and cheese on table and a lack of social distancing between members of Downing Street staff.

On Monday, No 10 insisted its staff were discussing work matters when they were photographed in the garden during the first coronavirus lockdown.

Images from around the country during that period, however, show a completely different picture.

The Guardian's front page on Monday shows a photo of a gathering in the Downing Street Garden. (The Guardian)
The Guardian's front page on Monday shows a photo of a gathering in the Downing Street garden. (The Guardian)
CARDIFF, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 16: A sign at a park in Llandaff Fields during the coronavirus lockdown period on May 16, 2020 in Cardiff, United Kingdom. The prime minister announced the general contours of a phased exit from the current lockdown, adopted nearly two months ago in an effort curb the spread of Covid-19. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)
A sign at a park in Llandaff Fields, Cardiff, Wales during the coronavirus lockdown on 16 May 2020. (Getty Images)

They feature empty train stations and police telling members of the public to keep their distance from one another in parks and on beaches, and asking them how far they have travelled.

Public advertising and messaging from that week asked people to keep a safe distance from others and questioned the reasons behind their visits to outdoor spaces.

Police officers disperse people who are gathered in Hyde Park in London on May 16, 2020, following an easing of lockdown rules in England during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - People are being asked to
Police officers disperse people who are gathered in Hyde Park in London on 16 May 2020. (AFP via Getty Images)
Police officers disperse people who are gathered in Hyde Park in London on May 16, 2020, following an easing of lockdown rules in England during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - People are being asked to
People are dispersed by police in Hyde Park in London on 16 May 2020. (AFP via Getty Images)
Police on Brighton beach after the introduction of measures to bring the country out of lockdown.
Police on Brighton beach after the introduction of measures to bring the country out of lockdown in May 2020. (PA)

Police officers dispersed large groups, not something that happened in the Downing Street garden, where nine staff members stood gathered around a table.

On 15 May, gatherings of more than two people were banned in outdoor public places in England, although that restriction would not have applied in a private garden. Later in the pandemic, gatherings were also banned in private gardens.

Watch: Barrister says No 10 garden gathering likely broke COVID rules

Two days earlier, an amendment to the rules was introduced which allowed an individual to meet one other person outside at a distance of at least 2m.

No 10 staff were allowed to be at the office as they were classed as key workers.

Police stopping vehicles on the A23 road between London and Brighton near Patcham after the introduction of measures to bring the country out of lockdown.
Police stopping vehicles on 16 May 2020 on the A23 road between London and Brighton near Patcham after the introduction of measures to bring the country out of lockdown. (PA)
BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - MAY 16: A police officer engages with members of the public on Brighton beach on May 16, 2020 in Brighton, England. The prime minister announced the general contours of a phased exit from the current lockdown, adopted nearly two months ago in an effort curb the spread of Covid-19. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
A police officer engages with members of the public on Brighton beach on 16 May 2020. (Getty Images)
Police monitor a gathering of people at Highbury Park in Birmingham, after the introduction of measures to bring the country out of lockdown.
Police monitor a gathering of people at Highbury Park in Birmingham in May 2020. (PA)
A play park remains closed to the public in The Meadows in Edinburgh as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A play park in The Meadows in Edinburgh that was closed to the public in May 2020. (PA)
Police attend as members of the public gather in Glasgow Green to protest against the coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Police attend as members of the public gather in Glasgow Green to protest against the coronavirus lockdown restrictions in May 2020. (PA)

However, workers were asked to keep 2m apart wherever possible.

On the same day the photo was taken, then health secretary Matt Hancock had 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.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) released data on the day the Downing Street photograph was taken, saying there had been 13,445 Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) recorded by forces in England up to 11 May 2020 for breaches of government public health regulations. In Wales, 799 FPNs were issued issued.

The regulations were introduced on 27 March 2020 to allow officers to fine those who did not comply with coronavirus restrictions.

On Monday, Downing Street said staff photographed in the garden last May eating and drinking wine were discussing work matters.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “These were individuals in Downing Street – officials, staff – who were meeting after the most recent press conference that day, so meeting out of hours.

“There were meetings taking place both inside and outside No 10.

Read more: Oxford professor warns against 'annual winter lockdowns'

“This shows colleagues who were required to be in work, meeting following a press conference to discuss work.”

Asked why the prime minister’s wife was there, the spokesman said: “Downing Street is also a private residence for both the prime minister and chancellor.

“The prime minister’s wife has use of her garden. It is effectively her garden.”

Earlier, deputy prime minister and justice secretary Dominic Raab tried to defend the gathering, telling Sky News that those in attendance were all wearing suits, even though it appears from the photo that several are in sweaters, shirts or polo shirts, and one person appeared to be wearing white trainers.

A police officer speaks to people in Birkenhead Park, Merseyside on May 16, 2020, following an easing of lockdown rules in England during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - People are being asked to
A police officer speaks to people in Birkenhead Park, Merseyside on 16 May 2020. (AFP via Getty Images)
A police van drives past government messaging to 'Stay Alert', the core slogan of its new covid-19 prevention campaign, at a bus stop at Hyde Park Corner in London, England, on May 15, 2020. Nearly eight full weeks have now passed since British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the country's coronavirus lockdown on March 23, although across England some of the measures, including the restriction on exercising outdoors more than once a day, have this week been removed. (Photo by David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A police van drives past government messaging to 'Stay Alert' at Hyde Park Corner in London, England, on 15 May 2020. (Getty Images)
A near empty concourse at Waterloo station during what would normally be the evening rush hour, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images)
A near empty concourse at Waterloo station in London on 11 May 2020. (PA Images via Getty Images)
CARDIFF, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 16: A police officer looks out from a police van in Bute Park during the coronavirus lockdown period as a cyclist passes behind on May 16, 2020 in Cardiff, United Kingdom. The prime minister announced the general contours of a phased exit from the current lockdown, adopted nearly two months ago in an effort curb the spread of Covid-19. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)
A police officer looks out from a police van in Bute Park in Cardiff, Wales, during the coronavirus lockdown period on 16 May 2020. (Getty Images)

However, Raab appeared to undermine his own argument when talking to Times Radio, saying staff were winding down with a drink “after a long day or a long week”.

Human rights barrister Adam Wagner said on Twitter this potentially meant anyone at the gathering not in their own garden was breaking the law at the time.

Wagner tweeted: “Hearing how government now describing this as a ‘drink after the formal business has ended’ i.e. after work, I’m no longer convinced would fit into outside the home for ‘the need… to work’. So everyone not in their own garden potentially broke the law”.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said “serious questions” need to be answered about the gathering.

He told Sky News: “Everybody will have looked at that photograph and 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.”

Watch: Dominic Raab defends No 10 gathering, saying 'They're all in suits'

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