Downing Street has said Boris and Carrie Johnson followed Covid guidance when the prime minister was “commuting” from Chequers to No 10 during the first lockdown in 2020 – but declined to answer further questions, including whether the pair held social events.
It emerged last week that the prime minister and his then-fiancee travelled between No 10 and the spacious Buckinghamshire mansion between 16 and 27 March 2020, around the start of the first lockdown.
On 16 March, the government advised the public to avoid all non-essential travel, and on 22 March, three days before a full lockdown was ordered, specified that essential travel “does not include visits to second homes”.
However, the Tortoise website reported that Johnson and his partner relocated to Chequers during this period, after which the prime minister continued to travel to Downing Street from Chequers to work for several days.
Johnson’s official spokesperson insisted on Monday that they had not broken the rules, saying they “acted in accordance with both the guidance and subsequent legislation at all times”.
“At the time as you know, Mrs Johnson was heavily pregnant, in a vulnerable category, and advised to minimise social contacts. So in line with clinical guidance and to minimise the risk to her, they were based at Chequers during that period, with the prime minister commuting to Downing Street to work,” he said.
He said their decision to move was because of the specific nature of No 10, which “unusually, is both a private residence and an office for hundreds of people.”
The spokesperson pointed out that by the time the guidance against travelling to second homes came in on 22 March, “the prime minister and his wife were already based in Chequers, acting in line with clinical guidance”.
He declined to answer further questions, however, including whether parties or social events were held at Chequers while the pair were there.
It has been reported that Carrie Johnson hosted a baby shower for a group of friends on 14 March 2020. By that time a minister, Nadine Dorries, had been diagnosed with Covid.
Johnson isolated alone in his Downing Street flat after testing positive for Covid on 27 March, eventually being taken into St Thomas’ hospital and spending time in intensive care. He then returned to Chequers to convalesce.
Johnson’s compliance with the strict restrictions in place in the first lockdown has come under intense scrutiny in recent days, since he apologised for attending a “bring your own booze” gathering, telling MPs he believed it was a “work event”.
Johnson appears poised to blame a “culture” of drinking in No 10 for a series of rule-breaking parties, including two held on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral. But the prime minister’s critics say he played a key role in encouraging lockdown-busting behaviour.