Downing Street has disputed a report suggesting Boris Johnson held a birthday party inside Number 10 attended by up to 30 people during the first lockdown.
ITV News understands the prime minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, helped to arrange the event which was held just after 2pm on the afternoon of 19 June 2020 – Mr Johnson’s birthday.
Up to 30 people are thought to have attended the event which the broadcaster says was held in the Cabinet Room after the PM returned from a school visit in Hertfordshire that morning.
The PM’s wife Carrie Johnson and Lulu Lytle – an interior designer who at the time was renovating Mr Johnson’s flat in Downing Street – are believed to have presented the prime minister with a cake whilst his wife led staff in a chorus of Happy Birthday.
Meanwhile, those present are understood to have eaten picnic food from Marks & Spencer at the gathering which is said to have lasted for about 20 to 30 minutes.
In the evening, family friends were hosted upstairs in the prime minister’s official residence in a further breach of the rules, ITV has reported.
Sky News’ political editor Beth Rigby said a Downing Street figure has confirmed the evening event to her.
Number 10 say latest allegations are ‘totally untrue’
At the time of the party, social gatherings indoors were still forbidden under the government’s own coronavirus rules, with people only permitted to meet outside in groups of up to six people.
However Number 10 denied the claim to ITV, saying: “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.”
In response to the claim of the afternoon event, a Number 10 spokeswoman said: “A group of staff working in Number 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 10 minutes.”
Latest allegations ‘slightly over the top’, minister says
Defending Mr Johnson, Environment Secretary George Eustice said “at the end of the day a small group of staff brought in a birthday cake”.
Asked if the PM had family and friends in his flat to celebrate his birthday on 19 June, Mr Eustice said: “Well my understanding is the prime minister had a small number of family, close family members, with him outdoors in the garden to celebrate his birthday.”
Pressed on whether he can be sure about this, Mr Eustice added: “I can. I do trust what I am told on these things and I do think that in this saga there have been some quite serious allegations made – those have been investigated.
“I don’t think that these latest allegations that have been made fit into that category. I think they have gone slightly over the top.”
Mr Johnson has been further criticised after a tweet from 2020 resurfaced in which the he encouraged the public to follow the example of a seven-year-old who stayed at home on her birthday.
“Josephine sets a great example to us all by postponing her birthday party until we have sent coronavirus packing,” the PM tweeted in March 2020.
Ex-Tory co-chair: PM must take ‘long hard look at current situation’
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Soane Britain, the luxury designer co-founded by Ms Lytle, said: “Lulu was present in Downing Street on 19 June working on the refurbishment.
“Lulu was not invited to any birthday celebrations for the prime minister as a guest. Lulu entered the Cabinet Room briefly as requested, while waiting to speak with the prime minister.”
Former co-chair of the Conservative Party, Baroness Warsi, has told Sky News the PM must take “a long hard look at the current situation” and judge “for himself” if he should still be leading the country.
“I do believe that he is somebody who is committed to public service and loves this country. He has to work out whether him staying in that office is the right thing for this country”, she said.
Starmer calls for Johnson to resign
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer reiterated his call for Mr Johnson to resign.
“This is yet more evidence that we have got a prime minister who believes that the rules that he made don’t apply to him,” he said following the latest “partygate” allegations.
Sir Keir added: “We cannot afford to go on with this chaotic, rudderless government. The prime minister is a national distraction and he’s got to go.”
Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey has called for the Metropolitan Police to investigate.
Jo Goodman, co-founder of COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, described the latest alleged rule break as “sickening”.
“Like thousands of others, I remember 19 June vividly – it was the day before what would have been my dad’s 73rd birthday, shortly after he had passed away from COVID-19,” she said.
“It was a horrible time for my family, but we stuck to the rules, not even being able to hug to comfort each other.”
Key Number 10 officials reportedly attended party
The original report by ITV News suggests those present at the afternoon party included the principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, who emailed Downing Street staff inviting them to a drinks party on 20 May 2020.
Number 10’s director of communications and its head of operations, Shelley Williams-Waller, were also at the birthday bash, it is suggested.
One week before the party, Mr Johnson asked the rest of the country to stick to the government’s coronavirus rules in a news briefing at Downing Street.
“I urge everyone to continue to show restraint and respect the rules which are designed to keep us all safe,” Mr Johnson told the British public on 10 June 2020.
“It is emphatically not designed for people who don’t qualify to start meeting inside other people’s homes – that remains against the law.”
Allegations come ahead of Sue Gray’s report
On the same day as the alleged birthday bash, then education secretary Gavin Williamson hosted a Downing Street news briefing announcing the return of children to school.
The latest revelations come at the beginning of the week in which senior civil servant Sue Gray is expected to publish her report into allegations of parties in Downing Street during the pandemic.
Sky News’ political editor Beth Rigby understands Ms Gray’s inquiry was already aware of this event and Number 10 provided her with the explanation Downing Street has released today.
It is understood the latest allegation will not further delay its publication.
The inquiry was launched in December when the PM announced an investigation following leaked footage of Downing Street staff joking about a Christmas party.
At Prime Minister’s Questions on 12 January this year, Mr Johnson admitted he went into the Number 10 garden “just after 6pm on 20 May 2020 to thank groups of staff” before going back into his office “25 minutes later”.
Mr Johnson issued an apology, but said he “believed implicitly that this was a work event”.