Shapps claims he was 'hugely uneasy' defending Partygate... six months after criticising media for covering it

Grant Shapps claimed he felt 'hugely uneasy' defending Boris Johnson over Partygate. (Getty Images)
Grant Shapps claimed he felt 'hugely uneasy' defending Boris Johnson over Partygate. (Getty Images)

Tory leadership candidate Grant Shapps has claimed he felt “hugely uneasy” defending the government over Partygate – six months after criticising a broadcaster for reporting on it.

Shapps, the transport secretary who was one of Boris Johnson’s most loyal ministers – having overseen Johnson’s party leadership bid in 2019 – told Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday how allegations of lockdown rule-breaking in Whitehall made law making “impossible”.

It’s a different approach to when Shapps, a reliable defender of Johnson, was advising BBC Breakfast in January there were “rather a lot of better things” the media could be focusing on than Partygate.

Here’s what he said on Sunday…

Shapps said: “Well, clearly the parties were just... in the end... we were all locked down... I couldn’t see my dad for four months. He was in hospital, we thought we had lost him. In the end, those who make the laws have to live by the laws and I think that just made it impossible.

“I’m free to tell you exactly what I think. If you’re in a government you have something called collective responsibility in the cabinet. You have to make decisions around that cabinet table and the agreement is you stick to those decisions or you shouldn’t be in cabinet.

Watch: Conservative leadership battle - who's running so far? (as of 9am Sunday)

“I think I said at the time, and I’ll repeat it now, of course I was hugely uneasy about having to talk about things I was uncomfortable with, not least because of my own family experience.”

He added, however, the scandal didn’t overrule the “great things” happening in government, such as its response to the Ukraine crisis.

And here’s what he said in January…

Shapps told BBC Breakfast there were “rather a lot of better things” that the media should be focusing on instead of Partygate.

He suggested the programme should have focused on “the fact that we have been able to release people from working from home [after the winter Omicron wave], from the international travel restrictions, the 37 million people who’ve had boosters, the fact we have the fastest growing economy and the many other good things that happened”.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 07: Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps leaves 10 Downing Street after attending a Cabinet meeting following a reshuffle triggered by resignations of senior cabinet ministers and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing his resignation as the leader of the Conservative Party in London, United Kingdom on July 07, 2022. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been forced to step down under pressure from senior members of his cabinet following resignations of over 50 government ministers and aides in a fall out over Johnson's handling of misconduct complaints against former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher. (Photo by Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Grant Shapps pictured in Downing Street this week. (Getty Images)

He said “there have been rather a lot of better things happening which have been the result of making very difficult decisions, particularly on the handling of Omicron”.

Johnson 'almost too loyal to people'

Shapps – one of nine candidates to have so far entered the Tory leadership race – also said on Sunday that one of Johnson’s failings was being “almost too loyal to people”.

Asked if the outgoing PM is a man of integrity, he told Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “Like all of us, he is fundamentally flawed. But we all are as human beings... in different ways.

Read more: Boris Johnson accused of trying to derail Rishi Sunak’s bid to be next PM

“I think actually one of his failings was he was sort of almost too loyal to people.”

Shapps suggested this included Chris Pincher and Dominic Cummings.

The transport secretary launched his campaign on Saturday, saying he wouldn't call a general election, would produce an emergency budget amid the cost of living crisis, would instruct his chancellor to cut personal tax for the most vulnerable and give state support to firms with high levels of energy consumption.