Social media mocks claims staff were 'working' in No10 garden

‘Wine, CHEESE, face’: Social media explodes with memes mocking PM for claiming No 10 staff pictured with wine and cheese in Downing Street garden during lockdown were ‘working’

  • Twitter users have mocked claims that staff pictured were ‘working’ in the Downing Street garden
  • A photo shows Boris Johnson sitting next to Carrie and staff having wine and cheese on May 15, 2020
  • Only two people could socialise outside while at least two metres apart under restrictions at the time
  • Yesterday Dominic Raab insisted that the garden was a ‘place of work’ during the lockdown

Twitter users have mocked official claims that government staff pictured enjoying wine and cheese in the Downing Street garden during the first Covid lockdown were ‘working’.

A photo leaked to The Guardian shows Prime Minister Boris Johnson sitting next to his wife Carrie and up to 17 staff in the garden on May 15, 2020 – at a time when only two people could socialise outside while at least two metres apart under Covid-19 restrictions.

The Telegraph has alleged that those pictured also include Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s former chief aide-turned-enemy, disgraced former health secretary Matt Hancock, and the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds.

Yesterday deputy prime minister Dominic Raab insisted that the garden was a ‘place of work’ and that sometimes staff would have a ‘drink after a long day or a long week’ during the first national shutdown.

But public anger at the Government over alleged multiple breaches of Covid curbs in Downing Street and Whitehall during the pandemic is mounting, with social media users now mocking claims that staff were merely ‘working’ that sunny May day.

One person on Twitter parodied government Covid messaging with their own ‘wine, cheese, face’ billboard, while others compared Mr Johnson to stop-motion character Wallace, the eccentric inventor obsessed with cheese.

Another posted an image of a character from US sitcom How I Met Your Mother drinking red wine under the table, and wrote: ‘This work meeting is never going to end.’

It comes as it emerged that the hunt is on for a Whitehall insider with an ‘animus’ against Mr Johnson suspected of leaking the picture of the get-together. 

Twitter users have mocked official claims that government staff pictured enjoying wine and cheese in the Downing Street garden during the first Covid lockdown were ‘working’

The Telegraph has alleged that those pictured also include Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s former chief aide-turned-enemy, disgraced former health secretary Matt Hancock, and the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds

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’

The image was apparently taken from a first floor veranda at the back of Number 11 Downing Street, where the Chancellor’s offices are. A No10 source claimed that the office ‘was used by Rishi Sunak’s people, and anybody else going in would have been noticed’. The Treasury angrily denied it was responsible. 

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.

It was claimed that some of those who attended the event were some of Mr Johnson’s top team such as Mr Hancock and Mr Cummings.

At the time the photo was taken, restrictions on meeting others were still in place. Earlier that day, Mr Hancock had told a Covid press conference: ;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.’

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’.

Thousands could not see dying loved ones in hospital or relatives in care homes at the time the photo was taken.

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.’ 

But public anger at the Government over alleged multiple breaches of Covid curbs in Downing Street during the pandemic is mounting, with social media users now mocking claims that staff were merely ‘working’ that sunny May day

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’.

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.

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.’

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 allegedly took place across Whitehall despite Covid restrictions. Senior civil servant Sue Gray is investigating reports of the parties.

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