Guido has just got off the phone with Bernard Jenkin. Our conversation was short. We got to the point of the call pretty quickly:
Guido: Cast your mind back to December 8th, 2020 during lockdown, do you remember attending a drinks party in parliament held by Eleanor Laing?
Bernard: I did not attend any drinks parties during lockdown.
Guido: It was your wife’s birthday celebration, are you saying you did not have anything to drink?
Bernard: I don’t recall.
Our chat came to a curt end. Fortunately prior to speaking to Sir Bernard, Guido had a longer conversation with Dame Eleanor Laing, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons. She conceded that she held a “business meeting” on that evening, where “I was so strict with my 2 metre ruler and told everyone we will adhere to those rules and be very careful.” Guido laughed when Dame Eleanor claimed she had her 2 metre ruler in front of her right there and then.
The Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons dictated the following statement to Guido
At the beginning of the pandemic I took advice on how many could be present in a room, I had the room measured and I kept a 2 metre ruler so that I could always verify that nobody who was working here was put at risk.
Guido asked her again:
Guido: Were any drinks served?
Eleanor: I don’t know. I will have to check.
No need Eleanor, Guido has already checked. Eleanor hosted a drinks party to celebrate her friend Anne Jenkin’s 65th birthday on that day. There was a cake for Baroness Jenkin and people were invited by WhatsApp for “drinks”. There was a spread of food, other MPs attended including some of the 2019 intake and others. It was not an impromptu affair – the nibbles had been bought in.
One source says that Dame Eleanor did mention the need for social distancing – to some amusement – windows and doors were open, although initial attempts to social distance “went out the window”. The crowd included those typically involved with Anne Jenkin and the Women2Win campaign, such as Maria Miller. A co-conspirator says there was “loads of drink” and that they specifically remember Bernard Jenkin with drink in hand at a jolly affair.
On that day December 8th 2020, London was in Tier 2 lockdown. Gatherings of more than 6 indoors either in a public or private building were against the regulations. No Christmas exception applied and breaches of the regulations were offences which could be prosecuted or dealt with by fixed penalty notices with penalties ranging up to £10,000. The guidance was clear:
Although there are exemptions for work purposes, you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier.
This was a birthday party, in breach of the legal regulations, and to top it off there was even birthday cake.