Look: Grant Shapps defends Boris Johnson’s Downing Street birthday party
A birthday party for Boris Johnson held during lockdown lasted just ten minutes between people who already worked together, Grant Shapps has claimed.
Seeking to defend his already embattled prime minister, the transport secretary said those working at Number 10 bought a cake and sang happy birthday, before returning to work.
Johnson has come under increasing pressure to step down following reports of parties in Downing Street as the rest of the country is under lockdown rules.
Watch: Boris Johnson’s birthday party revealed
The Prime Minister’s situation became even more difficult after police said they were now investigating potential breaches of coronavirus laws at a “number of events” in Downing Street and Whitehall on Tuesday.
Senior civil servant Sue Gray is currently leading an investigation into the alleged gatherings, but the PM was embroiled in controversy after Downing Street admitted staff ‘briefly met’ in the Cabinet Room following a a meeting.
Initial reports said 30 people attended and shared a cake despite the ban on social mixing inside.
ITV News reported that the Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, hosted the surprise encounter with a ‘happy birthday’ choir on the afternoon of June 19, 2020.
In attendance was interior designer Lulu Lytle, who would have had to descend three flights of stairs and cross into another building to attend.
Lytle admitted to attending but insisted she was only there ‘briefly’ waiting to speak to Mr Johnson about the lavish renovations she was carrying out to the couple’s flat above No 11.
Shapps sought to explain the gathering, saying those present had worked together before.
He told Sky News: “It was obviously the Prime Minister’s birthday, he had been given a cake earlier today, that’s the picture in the papers.
“And he clearly received a cake from the staff when he returned to the office.
“These are staff members he would have worked with and worked with all day, and he will have been in the same room with them many times working on the coronavirus response.
“They come in, give him a cake, I understand I think it was 10 minutes and that’s it.”
He later added that he did not think the British public would view the rally as a party.
He told BBC Breakfast: “I think most people would think of a party as an organized event rather than something where someone’s birthday in the office they work in with people with which he is still working, someone says ‘it’s your birthday here a cake’.
“But it’s up to Sue Gray to get to the bottom of it, I agree and understand why – especially from my own personal experience – that would cause anger.”
Shapps admitted he felt “uncomfortable” about the reports.
He told Radio 4: “I share the feeling of anger because of my own personal situation and I certainly have many constituents who will have felt the same way and wrote to me about it at the time.”
Shapps added that he “extremely” regrets that the parties’ talks are distracting from discussions on other issues such as the vaccination program and what is happening in Ukraine.
Johnson was awaiting publication of Sue Gray’s report to find out her fate, after reports suggested Tory MPs were awaiting the outcome to decide whether or not to try to oust her from office.
But some of the report’s findings will now be delayed while police investigate.
Commissioner Dick confirmed on Tuesday that the force had launched a criminal investigation into the rallies that have plagued the Prime Minister in recent months.
She said following the evidence provided they were investigating “a number of events” that took place in Downing Street.
Johnson said he “welcomes” the investigation into the alleged Downing Street parties.
The force had been criticized for failing to investigate the reports for “lack of evidence”, despite an ongoing investigation in which Met Police officers were questioned.
Commissioner Dick said the force’s investigation was launched following the officers’ testimony.
Watch: Astonished Labor No 10 hosted so many parties in lockdown