Four Downing Street aides exit in wake of COVID partygate scandal

By Melissa Coade

February 7, 2022

Boris Johnson placard in front of Big Ben
Boris Johnson is facing mounting political pressure to resign. (Thomas Krych / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

The UK prime minister’s chief of staff, Dan Rosenfield; principal private secretary Martin Reynolds; director of communications Jack Doyle, and head of policy Munira Mirza have all resigned.

Boris Johnson is facing mounting political pressure over the hypocrisy of several office parties held at his official 10 Downing Street residence while the rest of the country was subjected to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. 

The parties included farewell-dos for staff, a gathering prior to Prince Phillip’s funeral, Christmas parties, and a celebration for the prime minister’s birthday. The gatherings also involved more frivolous occasions, such as ‘wine time Fridays’ and a ‘bring your own booze’ function attended by the prime minister himself. 

Last Thursday, three of the UK PM’s senior staffers handed in their resignation, with Mirza quitting over Johnson’s comment about an opposition leader whom she described as a ‘scurrilous accusation’. 

The departure of Rosenfield, Doyle and Reynolds (who invited 100 government staff to a BYOB garden party in 2020) were largely expected in the wake of the Downing Street partygate controversy. 

Mizra was one of the PM’s longest-serving aides. She worked with Johnson for 14 years, since his days as mayor of London. 

The Spectator magazine published the resignation letter of the PM’s former head of policy, in which Mizra said there was no reasonable or fair basis for Johnson to imply UK politician Sir Keir Starmer was personally responsible for allowing sex offender Jimmy Savile to escape justice (Sir Keir was in charge of the Crown Prosecution Service at the time Savile was investigated but the entertainment personality was never prosecuted and has since died).

“This was not the usual cut and thrust of politics; it was an inappropriate and partisan reference to a horrendous case of child sex abuse,” Mizra’s resignation to the PM read. 

“You tried to clarify your position today but, despite my urging, you did not apologise for the misleading impression you gave.” 

Despite Mizra’s resignation letter appealing to the PM to say sorry for his remarks about Sir Keir, the PM has refused to apologise. Johnson did, however, attempt to backpedal his claims, later telling a group of reporters that he totally understood the leader of the opposition was not personally responsible for Savile’s case as head of the DPP.

In December, one of Britain’s top bureaucrats investigating allegations about the booze-fuelled parties recused himself over claims that his own office had a party of its own. Sue Gray, the public servant who stepped in to take over the inquiry, released her interim findings this month, highlighting that the parties demonstrated a ‘failure of leadership’.  

“No conclusions should be drawn, or inferences made from this [report] other than it is now for the police to consider the relevant material in relation to those incidents,” Gray’s report read.

“The police have also said this does not in itself mean that they will decide to take further action or that there has necessarily been a breach of the regulations.”

Where government-mandated COVID restrictions permitted Downing Street staff and the PM’s advisors to leave their homes for work, the 16 social gatherings examined by Gray effectively blurred the lines between their work and private lives. 

Gray’s interim findings were that at least some of the gatherings represented a ‘serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time’.

Johnson has swatted away calls for his resignation over the COVID parties and most recently apologised in the House of Commons for the breaches. About a dozen conservative politicians have called for the PM to step down.

​​”Sorry for the things we simply did not get right and sorry for the way that this matter has been handled,” Johnson told the House.


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