Minister: taxpayers did not pay for food, drink and a fridge linked to partygate

The Government said there was no cost to the taxpayer for food and alcohol at gatherings in Downing Street under investigation.

22 February 2022

Taxpayers incurred no costs for food, alcohol, suitcases or a fridge connected with gatherings investigated as part of the Downing Street partygate allegations, the Government has said.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis replied simply with “no” when challenged by Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) on “whether there was a cost to the public purse from expenditure” on the items.

The civil servant-led Sue Gray report investigated 16 events following allegations of parties being held and lockdown rules broken in Downing Street and across Whitehall.

The Metropolitan Police is investigating 12 events, including as many as six that the Prime Minister is reported to have attended.

The investigations follow allegations of frequent and excessive drinking by Downing Street staff to the extent where a wine fridge was purchased and staff were dispatched to local supermarkets to fill a suitcase with wine.

Ms Olney, in a written parliamentary question, said: “To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, whether there was a cost to the public purse from expenditure on (a) alcohol, (b) food, (c) suitcases and (d) a fridge at gatherings being investigated by the (i) Second Permanent Secretary to Cabinet Office and (ii) Metropolitan Police?”

“No,” responded Mr Ellis.

The Daily Telegraph has reported that at one event a partygoer took a suitcase to a nearby Co-op branch which was then filled with bottles of wine to bring back to Downing Street.

And a fridge with the capacity for 34 wine bottles was delivered through the back door of No 10 in December 2020 for staff’s “wine-time Fridays” which were held throughout lockdown, according to reporting in The Mirror.

And one of the events being investigated by the Metropolitan Police is the “socially distanced drinks” held on May 20 2020 at which staff were encouraged to “bring your own booze”.

Ms Gray’s report, while not referring to specific incidents because of the police inquiries, said: “The excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time.

“Steps must be taken to ensure that every Government department has a clear and robust policy in place covering the consumption of alcohol in the workplace.”

The Cabinet Office has faced a number of written questions from opposition MPs relating to the partygate affair seeking to establish if public money was involved.

Labour shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry has previously asked if Government procurement cards were used to make purchases lower than £500 at the Co-op on April 16 – the night of the alleged suitcase trip. “No,” was again the one-word answer from Mr Ellis.

Deputy leader of the Labour Party Angela Rayner had also sought to find out if any public money was spent on wine and cheese in November and December, and was referred by Mr Ellis to the Government’s spending data.

Ms Thornbury had previously asked the Government if public funds were used to buy fridges for use in Downing Street in the financial year 2020/21.

Mr Ellis responded: “Downing Street is a working building, including catering facilities and offices for staff; as is common in workplaces including the House of Commons, refrigerators are provided for general staff use.

“One refrigerator was purchased in the financial year for a Downing Street meeting room, and one to replace an existing refrigerator that had reached the end of its working operation.

“Notwithstanding, I can confirm that no such public expenditure was accrued in relation to the matters considered in the investigations by the Second Permanent Secretary or connected with associated media reports on this matter.”

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