Boris Johnson 'was not partying' at lockdown leaving do, Shapps insists

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·Breaking News Editor, Yahoo News UK
·4-min read
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Grant Shapps has insisted Boris Johnson was not partying. (Sky News)
Grant Shapps has insisted Boris Johnson was not partying. (Sky News)

Boris Johnson was "not partying" in pictures of him raising a glass in Downing Street with colleagues just days after he ordered a national COVID-19 lockdown, a government minister has insisted.

Johnson is facing fresh accusations he lied to Parliament after ITV News published photographs of the gathering showing the prime minister surrounded by bottles of alcohol.

The images have prompted calls from a small number of Conservative MPs for the PM to resign, with Tory MP Roger Gale describing them to Yahoo News UK as "damning".

Transport secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News: “Was he down there partying? No, clearly not. He had gone by to raise a glass to a colleague who was leaving."

Pictured of Boris Johnson at a leaving do were obtained by ITV News. (ITV News)
Pictured of Boris Johnson at a leaving do were obtained by ITV News. (ITV News)

Asked if Johnson had misled parliament, Shapps replied: “I think probably what happened is he is at the end of a busy day. He walks down, he says cheers to somebody who has worked there and walks out and to him that is not a party.”

The images published by ITV News were taken at a gathering held for departing communications chief Lee Cain on 13 November 2020, just days after Johnson had ordered a second national lockdown in England.

Asked last December in the Commons whether there had been a party in No 10 on that date, the prime minister said “no” and added he was sure the rules were followed at all times.

Labour said there was now “no doubt” that Mr Johnson had “lied” to MPs.

Watch: What's the latest on Sue Gray's report into Partygate?

The Metropolitan Police is facing questions as to why Johnson was not fined in relation to the event when photographs showed him, drink in hand, alongside a table strewn with food and wine bottles.

There were at least eight other people in the room at a time when people were banned from social mixing, other than to meet one person outside. Gatherings were permitted at work, but only if they were "reasonably necessary" for work purposes.

It is known at least one individual has received a fixed penalty notice in relation to an event on that date, though it is not the prime minister.

The latest disclosures come as Sue Gray, the senior civil servant who investigated lockdown breaches in Whitehall, is preparing to publish her final report.

Downing Street is understood to believe it is probable it will receive the senior civil servant’s report on Wednesday.

Read more: Starmer: 'I was working late when beer picture was taken, no rules were broken'

Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with President of Uruguay, Lacalle Pou, at 10 Downing Street, London, ahead of talks. Picture date: Monday May 23, 2022.
Supporters of the prime minister have been growing in confidence that he can survive calls for his resignation. (PA)

Supporters of the prime minister have been growing in confidence that he can survive calls for his resignation after receiving just one fine over a gathering at the Cabinet Office for his 56th birthday.

However, a small number of senior Tories have publicly called on their leader to go.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has demanded the prime minister explain himself.

"These images will rightly make people across the country very angry," Ross said.

"The prime minister must outline why he believes this behaviour was acceptable. To most, these pictures seem unjustifiable and wrong."

On Monday evening, senior Tory MP Steve Baker, who has already called for the PM's resignation, shared an image from the government's COVID campaign.

It reads: "Look her in the eyes and tell her you never bend the rules", followed by, "Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives".

When approached by Yahoo News UK, senior Conservative and Johnson critic Sir Roger Gale said: "Damning!"

Gale has also previously said Johnson should resign but, like Ross, withdrew his calls following Vladimir Putin's decision to invade Ukraine.

A fourth, Peter Aldous, said the situation was "unprecedented" and also called for Johnson to go.

There is still nervousness at Westminster that his position could come under renewed pressure if – as many expect – Gray is highly critical of the culture in No 10 and Whitehall which resulted in repeated violations of the rules.

The Times has reported Johnson suggested to Ms Gray that there was now no need for her to publish her report following the completion of the police investigation.

The paper quoted a Whitehall source as saying: “He asked her was there much point in doing it now that it’s all out there.”

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