Watch: Dominic Raab defends Downing St photo, saying 'They're all in suits'
Dominic Raab said a photo of Boris Johnson, his wife and staff members in the Downing Street garden during the first coronavirus lockdown was a work meeting because they were “all in suits”.
In the photo, from 15 May 2020 and published by The Guardian newspaper on Monday, the prime minister, his wife Carrie Symonds, who appears to be holding their newborn baby, and up to 17 staff are seen in the garden.
There appears to be wine and cheese on table and a lack of social distancing between members of Downing Street staff.
At the time, gatherings of more than two people were banned in outdoor public places, although that restriction would not have applied in a private garden. Later in the pandemic, gatherings were also banned in private gardens.
On Monday, Raab, the deputy prime minister and justice secretary, tried to defend the gathering by claiming those in attendance were all wearing suits.
He told Kay Burley on Sky News that Downing Street is “fundamentally a place of work”.
He added: “They’re all in suits,” to which Burley interrupted: “No they’re not.”
In the photo, it appears that many staff are in sweaters, shirts or polo shirts, while one person even appears to be wearing white trainers.
Raab said: “Some of them have taken their jackets off.”
Burley then asked if it only counts as a business meeting if they “have a suit on”.
Raab said: “Let me answer. It’s a place of work but it’s also the residence of the prime minister.”
Although he stated that the gathering in the garden was a work meeting, 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”.
Downing Street said staff photographed in the garden 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.
“This shows colleagues who were required to be in work, meeting following a press conference to discuss work.”
On the 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.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told Sky News on Monday: “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.”
In the photograph published by The Guardian, Mr Johnson can be seen sitting around a garden table with his then-fiancée Carrie, and two members of staff.
On the table are bottles of wine and a cheeseboard. Four other members of staff are sat around a second table a distance away. Nine people are then gathered on the grass, with another two sat on the floor to the right.
The alleged gathering is one of a number which have been reported across Whitehall during coronavirus restrictions.
Senior civil servant Sue Gray has been tasked with investigating the reports after cabinet secretary Simon Case was removed from the probe after it was revealed he had known about a quiz held in his department.
Watch: Dominic Raab says Boris Johnson occasionally has wine and cheese after busy week