‘I don’t seek to defend it’: Grant Shapps admits Boris Johnson’s lockdown birthday party was wrong

‘It’s quite right that that’s investigated and the prime minister apologises where he has transgressed’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 25 January 2022 08:59
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‘I don’t seek to defend it’: Shapps admits PM’s lockdown birthday party was wrong

Grant Shapps has undermined Boris Johnson’s defence of his No 10 birthday party during lockdown, appearing to admit it broke Covid rules and saying: “I don’t seek to defend it.”

The transport secretary piled pressure on the prime minister – as Downing Street tried to justify the June 2020 event – by saying he must own up “where he has transgressed”.

Mr Shapps said it was up to the civil servant Sue Gray to decide if the party was “appropriate”, but added: “I’m furious with everybody who broke the rules.”

Many people had broken lockdown rules “perhaps unwittingly,” he argued, but he said: “It’s quite right that that’s investigated and the prime minister apologises where he has transgressed.”

The comments came after other cabinet ministers disputed whether the event – at which Mr Johnson was presented with a cake and up to 30 people sang Happy Birthday – was a party.

At the time, indoor social gatherings were banned, yet staff enjoyed picnic food and cake for 30 minutes – and the interior designer arranging Mr Johnson’s flat refurbishment, Lulu Lytle, was there.

No 10 has defended the party, saying: “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.”

But the Covid regulations expert and QC Adam Wagner warned: “It’s an indoor social gathering – it lasted 30 mins and the PM apparently stayed for 10.

“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.”

ITV News also claimed that, the same evening of 19 June, “family friends were hosted upstairs in the prime minister’s residence” in a further breach of the rules.

But Downing Street denied that allegation, 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.”

Ms Gray is believed to have already been aware of the latest allegations, which means her report – expected at the end of this week – may not be delayed further.

Its verdict will be crucial in determining whether 54 Conservative MPs submit letters demanding a no-confidence vote in the prime minister, the number required to trigger it.

Mr Shapps, speaking on Sky News, appeared to shift the blame onto Carrie Johnson, saying: “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.”

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