Subscribe by email, free
Your daily briefing for podcasting and on-demand
Boris Johnson, the former UK prime minister

ITV News podcast reveals former British PM Boris Johnson joked about a 'most unsocially distanced party'

Press Release · London, UK · via ITN ·
  • Staff “shredded” key documents and destroyed evidence ahead of Sue Gray investigation
  • Staff corroborated their stories prior to filling out Metropolitan Police questionnaires.
  • The notorious party on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh funeral service in April 2021 was even more debaucherous than previously documented, with at least two couples “getting it on with each other” and “touching each other up” and two other members of staff “all over each other” in a kitchen area.
  • Only 50% of the parties were ever investigated by Sue Gray or the Metropolitan Police.

Boris Johnson joked to Downing Street staff “this is the most unsocially distanced party in the UK right now”, during a boozy Number 10 leaving do, ITV News has revealed in an explosive new podcast on the partygate scandal.

The claim aired on Partygate: The Inside Story brings into fresh doubt Mr Johnson’s long-held position that he was unaware rules had been broken within Number 10 during the pandemic lockdown.

Mr Johnson is still due to appear before a Commons standards committee, which is investigating whether he knowingly misled MPs when he insisted all guidance had been followed at the event.

Get the free Podnews newsletter for more like this.
Our privacy policy keeps your data safe.
(Fill this in now; you won’t lose your place!)

When ITV News put the direct quote to Mr Johnson he did not deny saying it.

The claim is among several damning new revelations aired on the podcast - including an allegation staff deliberately destroyed evidence of partying before the Sue Gray and Met Police investigations, the latter of which would make 10 Downing Street the most law-breaking address in the country during lockdown.

Several Number 10 sources, who were instrumental in helping ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand expose wrong-doing throughout the partygate scandal, are heard for the first time, with actors voicing their own recorded words to protect their anonymity. The sources make other explosive new revelations in the podcast, including:

  • Staff corroborated their stories prior to filling out Metropolitan Police questionnaires.
  • The notorious party on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh funeral service in April 2021 was even more debaucherous than previously documented, with at least two couples “getting it on with each other” and “touching each other up” and two other members of staff “all over each other” in a kitchen area.
  • Only 50% of the parties were ever investigated by Sue Gray or the Metropolitan Police.

Partygate: The Inside Story gives listeners the inside track behind events which erupted after 7 December 2021 when ITV News broadcast the infamous mock press conference video featuring Allegra Stratton, the effective smoking gun which blew the scandal wide open.

The series also reveals the moment that triggered a whistleblower to release the footage of the former press spokesperson Stratton and Downing Street staff discussing how to disguise a rule-breaking Christmas party in 2020 from the media.

Narrated by Paul Brand, the seven-episode podcast guides listeners through a year of remarkable scoops and exclusives - including the notorious 'BYOB invite email’ and the illegal birthday party for which Mr Johnson and his then-chancellor, the now-prime minister Rishi Sunak, were fined.

Among the contributors to the series are GMB presenter Susanna Reid, I’m A Celebrity hosts Ant and Dec and former Daily Mirror political editor Pippa Crerar, along with ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston and Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana.

The new evidence gathered in the series brings into fresh question Mr Johnson’s claim he had no knowledge of rule-breaking under his watch.

One of the sources recalls hearing Mr Johnson make the “unsocially distanced party” comment, which was received by laughter in the room, as staff gathered around a table filled with alcohol and party snacks to hear him toast his outgoing director of communications Lee Cain in November 2020.

It was among several illegal lockdown gatherings for which attending staff were fined, though it was not an event for which Mr Johnson received his own fixed penalty notice by the Metropolitan Police for breaching the rules his government set for the nation to obey at the height of the pandemic.

Recalling the event on the podcast, the source says: “I was working late - some music came on, the mumbling sort of rose, and there were loads of people stood around, but this time I came out because I heard the prime minister speaking and that’s when I heard the quote: ‘This is the most unsocially distanced party in the UK right now’ and everyone was laughing about it.”

ITV News later exclusively revealed the photographs of Mr Johnson raising his glass in front of staff at the leaving do on November 13 2020.

Our source says their experience in the room that Friday undermines the former PM’s repeated claim that he was unaware of partying.

“The PM making that comment really sticks out in my mind, that was pretty bad, because the picture showed one side of this going on. But what it didn’t capture is the 20 odd people sat on top of each other on the opposite side - they’re literally shoulder to shoulder, clamped in like a tube carriage,” the source said.

“And he was there seeing people sat on other people’s laps (in) close proximity, crowded, scrunched up in front of him. He saw that, he saw people with drinks. You saw the picture. It had booze all over that desk. He’s not blind, he’s not stupid. He saw that and didn’t shut it down.

“That was really bad, but that was a normal sight, a regular occurrence, so it wasn’t unusual to see that sort of thing.”

Mr Johnson’s comments and actions remain subject to investigation by the Commons Privileges Committee. The Committee is expected to sit early this year, when Mr Johnson will be called to give oral evidence.

Several sources reveal the incredulity inside Number 10 at his initial absolute denials to Parliament on December 8 2021, the day after the mock press conference was aired, when he said: “I am sure that whatever happened, the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.”

One source recalls: “We all watched it live and we were just gobsmacked. We all looked at each other and thought ‘why the hell is he saying this?’ We all know it had happened, he knew it happened - he was there.

“We were all just shocked that he would even deny it. He was there. We were there. We were all there together. And suddenly he’s denying it.”

The series also makes a series of damning new claims about the toxic culture, misguided leadership and illegal action of staff inside Number 10 which ultimately led to 83 people receiving a record total 126 fines.

A source who claims only 50% of the partying was investigated also alleges members of staff covered up proof of parties, shredding key documents and destroying evidence prior to Sue Gray’s Cabinet Office investigation and the separate Met Police probe.

The source reveals: “There was a sense, and an implication, that we should start deleting evidence before there is an investigation. And a lot of people started shredding things. Any proof of the events started disappearing.

“[Awards from a Christmas party were] basically taken down, kept away, shredded, evidence destroyed. So there was an aspect of getting rid of evidence - just keeping yourself in the clear before an investigation would happen.“

In response to whether Mr Johnson said the direct quote, “this is the most unsocially distanced party in the UK right now”, the spokesperson issued an effective non-denial, saying: “During the pandemic 10 Downing Street staff worked to coordinate the UK government’s national response. The work of Downing Street staff was crucial as they helped marshal the UK’s response to a national emergency.”

The Cabinet Office were contacted for comment.

Listen

Partygate: The Inside Story
ITV News
Play trailer

This is a press release from ITN which we link to from Podnews, our daily newsletter about podcasting and on-demand. This is reprinted verbatim; we may rewrite headlines and descriptions.

This page contains automated links to Apple Podcasts. We may receive a commission for any purchases made.

Get a global view on podcasting and on-demand with our daily news briefing