Watch: Grant Shapps defends Boris Johnson's Downing Street birthday party
A birthday party for Boris Johnson held during lockdown only lasted for ten minutes between people who were already working together, Grant Shapps has claimed.
Seeking to defend his already embattled prime minister, the transport secretary said those who worked in Number 10 had bought a cake and sang happy birthday, before getting on with their jobs.
Johnson has been under increasing pressure to resign following reports of parties in Downing Street while the rest of the nation was under lockdown rules.
Watch: Boris Johnson's Birthday Party Revealed
The PM's situation became even more difficult after the police said they were now investigating the potential breaches of coronavirus laws at a “number of events” in Downing Street and Whitehall on Tuesday.
Senior civil servant Sue Gray is currently conducting an inquiry into the alleged gatherings, but the PM was thrown further into controversy after Downing Street admitted staff “gathered briefly” in the Cabinet Room following a meeting.
Initial reports alleged 30 people attended and shared cake despite social mixing indoors being banned.
ITV News reported the Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, had organised the surprise get-together complete with a chorus of “happy birthday” on the afternoon of June 19 2020.
In attendance was interior designer Lulu Lytle, who would have had to go down three flights of stairs and cross into another building to be present.
Lytle has admitted attending but insisted she was only present “briefly” while waiting to talk to Mr Johnson about the lavish refurbishments she was carrying out to the couple’s flat above No 11.
Shapps sought to explain the gathering, saying those present had already been working together.
He told Sky News: “It obviously was the Prime Minister’s birthday, he’d been given a cake earlier in the day, that’s the picture in the newspapers.
“And he was clearly given a cake by staff when he got back to the office.
"These are staff he would have been working with and was working with all day long, and will have been many a time in the same room with them working on the response to coronavirus.
“They come in, give him a cake, I understand I think it lasted for 10 minutes and that was it.”
He later added that he didn't think the British public would consider the gathering to be a party.
He told BBC Breakfast: “I think most people would think of a party as being an arranged event rather than something where on somebody’s birthday in the office that they work in with the people that they always work with, someone says ‘it’s your birthday here’s a cake’.
“But that is for Sue Gray to get to the bottom of, I do agree and understand why – not least from my own personal experience – this would cause upset.”
Shapps admitted he felt "uneasy" about the reports.
He told Radio 4: "I share the sense of upset because of my own personal circumstances and I certainly have many constituents who will have felt the same way and wrote to me about this at the time."
Shapps added that he was "hugely regretful" that the talk of the parties was distracting from talk of other issues such as the vaccine programme and what is happening in Ukraine.
Johnson was awaiting the publication of Sue Gray's report to find out his fate, after reports suggested Tory MPs were waiting on the outcome to decide whether or not to try and oust him from office.
But some of the findings of the report will now be delayed as the police carry out their investigation.
Commissioner.Dick confirmed on Tuesday that the force had launched a criminal probe into the gatherings which have blighted the prime minister in recent months.
She said that as a result of evidence being provided, they are investigating "a number of events" which were held in Downing Street.
Johnson said he "welcomes" the investigation into alleged parties held inside Downing Street.
The force had come under fire for not investigating the reports over a "lack of evidence", despite an inquiry being carried out in which Met Police officers have been interviewed.
Commissioner Dick said that the force's investigation was launched off the back of officers' testimony..
Watch: Labour astonished No. 10 hosted so many parties in lockdown