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No 10 officials say party attended by Johnson so cramped people sat on each other’s laps | Boris Johnson

Partygoers in Downing Street were so cramped together at a leaving do attended by Boris Johnson that some were forced to sit on each other’s laps, it has been alleged.

No 10 officials speaking anonymously to BBC Panorama said they sometimes arrived at work to find bins overflowing with empty bottles from parties the night before and security guards who tried to stop one illegal gathering taking place were laughed at.

Their testimony comes as the prime minister braces for fresh embarrassment with the long-awaited publication of a report by the senior civil servant Sue Gray, likely to be completed on Wednesday.

Some of those who worked in Downing Street said social events became routine during the pandemic despite strict laws forbidding indoor and outdoor mixing.

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After Johnson was pictured drinking at a leaving do for his then director of communications, Lee Cain, in November 2020 when England was in its second lockdown, one of those who attended told the BBC: “There was about 30 people if not more in a room. Everyone was stood shoulder to shoulder, some people on each others laps.”

They described staff in Downing Street reacting with disbelief when Johnson claimed in parliament all rules had been followed when the Partygate scandal first emerged last December. The source recalled: “We were watching it all live and we just sort of looked at each other in disbelief like: why? Why is he denying this?”

They said they had felt like Johnson had given “permission” for the events to take place, adding: “He was there! He may have just been popping through on the way to his flat because that’s what would happen.

“You know, he wasn’t there saying: ‘This shouldn’t be happening!’ He wasn’t saying: ‘Can everyone break up and go home? Can everyone socially distance? Can everyone put masks on?’ No, he wasn’t telling anybody that. He was grabbing a glass for himself!”

Another Downing Street staff member suggested parties were held “every week” in the office, with “wine time Fridays” a regular feature in the press team’s diary at the end of the week.

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The source said life appeared to continue as normal during the pandemic in No 10. “We saw it as our own bubble,” they admitted.

Scotland Yard ended its investigation last week having issued 126 fines – including one each to Johnson and his chancellor, Rishi Sunak. But the prime minister escaped getting a fixed-penalty notice for the November 2020 leaving do, despite fresh pictures emerging on Monday of Johnson toasting Cain in front of a table littered with empty bottles of alcohol.

Sources have said Johnson instigated the gathering and poured drinks for staff. But a No 10 spokesperson said the Metropolitan police had “had access to all information relevant to their investigations, including photographs”, and that after Gray’s report is published, “the prime minister will address parliament in full”.

A former staff member told the BBC there had been a “witch-hunt” of junior staff.

They said: “A lot of these young members of staff from across Downing Street who have been fined feel that they went to these events, they did not think they were breaking the rules at the time because the prime minister was at them, some of the most senior civil servants in the country were at them.”

Mike Clancy, the general secretary of the union Prospect, said the testimony was “yet further evidence of a Downing Street-specific culture of drinking and rule breaking led from the very top”.

He added: “The constant stream of stories will be doubly insulting to civil servants under constant attack from ministers who accuse them of being lazy and who will be subjecting them to a huge real-terms pay cut this year. These same civil servants who did not indulge in this kind of behaviour and went above and beyond to keep the country running during the pandemic.

“There is a specific issue as to how this affects junior staff in No10. If you are invited to attend events by your senior boss and if the PM is in attendance or you believe he may be you are going to feel compelled to attend, and believe that it is legitimate to do so.

“The PM and those around him need to take responsibility for the impossible position they put staff in.”

Downing Street was contacted for comment.

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