The Prime Minister’s official spokesman has apologised for his response to reports of lockdown parties in Downing Street and Whitehall.
Max Blain and other No 10 spokespeople repeatedly told regular briefings for journalists that no rules had been broken, even though some of the parties uncovered in Sue Gray’s report involved press office staff.
At Thursday morning’s Downing Street briefing, Mr Blain – who is normally referred to in press reports simply by his title – acknowledged there had been “failings” in the way the issue had been handled.
“The Prime Minister has said, and I have said on a number of occasions, there were failings both in terms of what happened and in terms of how it was handled,” he said.
“The Prime Minister has apologised for that and obviously I am happy to apologise for that as well.”
Mr Blain – who took up his post in April 2021 – refused, however, to say whether he was at any of the events or if he received a fine.
He said: “I am limited in what I can say with regards to me. I speak at these briefings as the Prime Minister’s spokesperson rather than myself individually.”
Asked about any further action within No 10, he said: “I can’t get into individual disciplinary issues but suffice to say there will be further work with regards to disciplinary action.”
Mr Blain’s deputy Jamie Davies, who takes the briefings in Mr Blain’s absence, also later apologised to journalists.
“We accept we should have taken the time to establish the full facts right at the very beginning, that’s what Sue Gray has now done, and I echo the apology you heard this morning,” he said.
Among the events highlighted in Ms Gray’s report was a press office leaving do for departing communications director Lee Cain in November 2020 where the Prime Minister gave a speech.
On December 18 of that year, the press office had a “secret Santa party” where some staff drank “excessively” and a cleaner who came in the following morning found red wine had been spilled on the wall.
Press office staff were also present at a notorious leaving do on April 16 2021 – the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral – for Mr Cain’s successor James Slack, when the drinking continued into the early hours of the morning.
Mr Blain disclosed the press office’s “Wine Time Fridays” have been banned under new rules on alcohol consumption on Government premises introduced earlier this year.
According to Ms Gray’s report, at the end of the week, drinks were laid on in a room next to the press office and staff were free to help themselves and take them back to their desks.
Mr Blain said new guidelines made clear that “excessive” alcohol consumption in the workplace is not appropriate, and alcohol is now only permitted in certain limited circumstances, such as at official receptions.
“There are new rules with regard to alcohol consumption in No 10 and new guidance across Whitehall. Social events will continue but obviously within the new rules,” the spokesman said.
“Alcohol consumption in No 10 for staff is not permitted, the only distinction being for formal events – visits from world leaders.
“The guidance makes clear that excessive consumption of alcohol or sufficient consumption to impair judgment is not appropriate.
“It reflects that occasional and limited consumption of alcohol in the workplace may be appropriate in some circumstances.”