During the Covid inquiry, a revealing exchange took place between two senior mandarins, Simon Case and Martin Reynolds. Reynolds, formerly the principal private secretary to Boris Johnson, had earned the nickname “Party Marty” for inviting over 100 Downing Street staff to a “bring your own booze” event during the first lockdown.
As the official Covid inquiry delves deeper into the inner workings of Boris Johnson’s government, Reynolds testified about the use of WhatsApp messages. He acknowledged that messages from key decision-makers would inevitably become relevant in due course. This revelation led to a message from Simon Case in December 2021, cautioning that the Prime Minister would be “mad” to think his WhatsApps wouldn’t become public via the Covid Inquiry.
When pressed about this, Reynolds couldn’t recall the specifics but surmised that the Prime Minister likely hadn’t realized the extent of the inquiry’s reach into his WhatsApp correspondence. Johnson, who is yet to testify, had committed earlier in the year to submit his pandemic-related WhatsApp messages to the inquiry after they were recovered from an old phone, despite security advisories against using it.
Reynolds was also questioned about a WhatsApp group involving senior officials that was used to brief and summarize information for Johnson. It was noted that Reynolds activated the disappearing messages function on this group a few weeks after Johnson had announced the inquiry. When asked about his motives, Reynolds clarified that he didn’t do it to obstruct the inquiry but rather out of concern that the exchanges might be leaked or screen-captured.
Hugo Keith KC pointed out that the members of this group were among Reynolds’ closest and most important colleagues, with whom he had been interacting for an extended period. Additionally, Reynolds was the author of an email sent to Downing Street staff in May 2020, inviting them to a gathering in the No 10 garden, an event that resulted in several fines. The email’s content encouraged employees to join for socially distanced drinks, emphasizing the need to bring their own beverages. This invitation came at a time when social mixing was restricted except for one-on-one interactions outdoors in public places.