Grant Shapps Admits Boris Johnson Was 'Unwise' To Attend Birthday Bash In No.10

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(Photo: Stefan Rousseau - PA Images via Getty Images)
(Photo: Stefan Rousseau - PA Images via Getty Images)

Grant Shapps has admitted Boris Johnson was “unwise” to attend a birthday party held for him in No.10 during the first lockdown.

The transport secretary said he shared “the sense of unease” that had been generated by the latest claims that the prime minister attended a surprise party in Downing Street to mark his 56th birthday on June 19, 2020, adding: “I don’t seek to defend it.”

ITV News claimed a birthday party inside Downing Street’s Cabinet Room was attended by up to 30 people that afternoon for between 20 and 30 minutes.

Johnson’s wife Carrie and designer Lulu Lytle – who was renovating his Downing Street apartment – led staff in a chorus of happy birthday, the broadcaster said.

Lockdown rules in place at the time banned all indoor gatherings of more than two people and people were only permitted to meet in groups of six outdoors, providing they were socially distanced.

Shapps said he was “furious” with lockdown breakers, citing his own personal circumstances which prevented him from visiting his sick father in hospital for four months.

But he nevertheless sought to offer an explanation by saying Johnson did not organise the birthday party himself and that the staff who gathered for the event had already been working together.

And he cited the impending report by senior civil servant Sue Gray, who is investigating a spate of parties allegedly held in Downing Street during the pandemic.

He told Sky News: “It was his birthday and these are people that he worked with all the time.

“As I said, I don’t seek to defend it. This is for Sue Gray to decide on whether this was appropriate, she’ll make the recommendations.

“I think we can be pretty clear that the prime minister didn’t present the cake to himself. This is somebody coming in with that cake and I’ve explained to you that I’m furious with everybody who broke the rules.”

Johnson is facing fresh calls to resign following the allegations.

Labour leader Keir Starmer hit out at a “chaotic, rudderless government” and said: “He’s got to go.

ITV News said that picnic food from M&S was eaten during the afternoon gathering, with family friends were later hosted upstairs in the prime minister’s flat.

But Downing Street disputed the report – saying staff only “gathered briefly” in the Cabinet Room after a meeting.

“A group of staff working in No 10 that day gathered briefly in the Cabinet Room after a meeting to wish the prime minister a happy birthday. He was there for less than ten minutes.”

Of the evening event claim, they said: “This is totally untrue. In line with the rules at the time, the prime minister hosted a small number of family members outside that evening.”

But Covid regulations expert Adam Wagner has already indicated that the gathering was illegal. “It’s an indoor social gathering – it lasted 30 mins and the PM apparently stayed for 10,” he warned.

“Pre-arranged in a particular room and food was bought. It’s obviously not within the rules and nobody from the government at the time would have said for a moment it was.”

Asked by BBC Radio 4′s Today programme whether the facts as laid out meant the gathering was illegal, Shapps said: “I don’t want to present a defence because again, I’d be adding speculation to speculation.”

And pressed on what his response would be if someone had asked him at a Downing Street press conference whether they could have a “brief gathering with cake and a few people around”, Shapps replied: “I think it’s clearly unwise to do those things.”

The PA news agency reported that Lytle briefly attended while undertaking work in Downing Street.

Soane Britain, the luxury designer co-founded by Lytle, said she was “present in Downing Street on June 19 working on the refurbishment”, which has been subject to multiple investigations into its funding.

“Lulu was not invited to any birthday celebrations for the prime minister as a guest,” the spokeswoman said.

“Lulu entered the Cabinet Room briefly as requested, while waiting to speak with the prime minister.”

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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