Twitter users have mocked official claims that government staff pictured enjoying wine and cheese in the Downing Street garden during the first Covid lockdown were ‘working’.

A photo leaked to The Guardian shows Prime Minister Boris Johnson sitting next to his wife Carrie and up to 17 staff in the garden on May 15, 2020 – at a time when only two people could socialise outside while at least two metres apart under Covid-19 restrictions.

The Telegraph has alleged that those pictured also include Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s former chief aide-turned-enemy, disgraced former health secretary Matt Hancock, and the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds.

Yesterday deputy prime minister Dominic Raab insisted that the garden was a ‘place of work’ and that sometimes staff would have a ‘drink after a long day or a long week’ during the first national shutdown.

But public anger at the Government over alleged multiple breaches of Covid curbs in Downing Street during the pandemic is mounting, with social media users now mocking claims that staff were merely ‘working’ that sunny May day.

One person on Twitter parodied government Covid messaging with their own ‘wine, cheese, face’ billboard, while others compared Mr Johnson to stop-motion character Wallace, the eccentric inventor obsessed with cheese.

Another posted an image of a character from US sitcom How I Met Your Mother drinking red wine under the table, and wrote: ‘This work meeting is never going to end.’

It comes as it emerged that the hunt is on for a Whitehall insider with an ‘animus’ against Mr Johnson suspected of leaking the picture of the get-together. 

Twitter users have mocked official claims that government staff pictured enjoying wine and cheese in the Downing Street garden during the first Covid lockdown were ‘working’

Twitter users have mocked official claims that government staff pictured enjoying wine and cheese in the Downing Street garden during the first Covid lockdown were ‘working’

The hunt is on for the so-called 'snappy rat'. The Treasury angrily denied it was responsible, with a source saying: 'It was not anyone in the No 11 team. That room is accessible to anyone working in Downing Street'

Now, the hunt continues for the so-called “snappy rats”. Angrily, the Treasury denied that they were responsible. A source said: “It wasn’t anybody in the No11 team. This room can be accessed by anyone who works in Downing Street.

The Telegraph has alleged that those pictured also include Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s former chief aide-turned-enemy, disgraced former health secretary Matt Hancock, and the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds

The Telegraph has alleged that those pictured also include Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s former chief aide-turned-enemy, disgraced former health secretary Matt Hancock, and the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds

The image was apparently taken from a first floor veranda at the back of Number 11 Downing Street, where the Chancellor’s offices are. A No10 source claimed that the office ‘was used by Rishi Sunak’s people, and anybody else going in would have been noticed’. Angrily, the Treasury denied that it was responsible. 

Now, the search is on for “snappy-rat”. It is an acronym that refers to the “chatty rat” scandal in which plans were leaked for a second nationwide lockdown.

Following a speech by Johnson praising Peppapig World, another ‘chattypig’ was charged with briefing Johnson.

Some of the people who attended the event may have been members of Johnson’s elite team, such as Mr Hancock or Mr Cummings.

Restrictions on meeting other people were in effect at the time of the photo. Speaking earlier that day at a Covid conference, Hancock stated: “People can now exercise and spend their time outside as much as they like. You can also meet someone from your home in an open, outdoor place.”

‘But please keep two metres apart.’

Amid a series of claims about parties at Downing Street and in Whitehall during lockdown, campaigners said the new photograph showed the Prime Minister ‘presided over a culture of believing that the rules applied only to other people since early in the pandemic’.

At the time of the photo, thousands could not have seen their loved ones dying in hospital or care home.

Last night Mr Johnson defended the gathering, saying: ‘This is where I live, this is where I work; Those were meetings of people at work, talking about work.’ 

But public anger at the Government over alleged multiple breaches of Covid curbs in Downing Street during the pandemic is mounting, with social media users now mocking claims that staff were merely ‘working’ that sunny May day

But public anger at the Government over alleged multiple breaches of Covid curbs in Downing Street during the pandemic is mounting, with social media users now mocking claims that staff were merely ‘working’ that sunny May day

According to sources the image was taken probably from one the state rooms where the special advisors and civil service personnel of the Chancellor were located. Former shadow chancellor Ed Balls claimed it was shot from ‘the 11 Downing Street first floor balcony’.

Mr Raab, asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether he believed ‘someone or some group’ was ‘dripping out leaks to bring Boris Johnson down’, said ‘it’s certainly being done with an animus’ to ‘damage the Government’.

He said that this gathering wasn’t a party since the guests were in business attire.

Mr Raab said: ‘It is not just a place of work for all the staff that work in No 10 and the Prime Minister, but it is also the residence of the Prime Minister and his very young family.’

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said yesterday: ‘To suggest that that is a work meeting is a bit of a stretch by anybody’s analysis.

‘I think there are very serious questions to be answered, but just look at the photo and ask yourself: Is that a work meeting going on or is that a social event? I think the answer is pretty obvious.’

Jo Goodman, co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said: ‘This supposed work meeting, with no pen, paper or laptop in sight, instead replaced with vital cheese and wine, shows that [the Prime Minister] presided over a culture of believing that the rules applied only to other people since early in the pandemic.’

Twitter users juxtaposed the photo and their own stories of separation from loved ones.

One woman shared a photo of her son looking at his grandmother from a window. Another told about how her mother banned her from sitting in the garden with her shortly before her death.

This gathering was one of several that allegedly occurred across Whitehall, despite Covid restrictions. Sue Gray, senior civil servant, is looking into reports about the parties.