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.
In the evening, family friends were reportedly hosted upstairs in the prime minister’s official residence in a further breach of the rules, ITV has reported.
At the afternoon event, the PM’s wife 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 around 20-30 minutes.
At the time of the party, social gatherings indoors were still forbidden under the government’s own coronavirus rules.
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.”
People were only permitted to meet outside in groups of up to six people and pubs, hairdressers and restaurants remained closed.
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.”
In response to ITV’s claims that an alleged event took place later on the evening of the 19 June in the prime minister’s flat, the spokeswoman 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.”
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.”
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.
“And so we have got a prime minister and a government who spend their whole time mopping up sleaze and deceit. Meanwhile millions of people are struggling to pay their bills.
“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.
But in a tweet defending Mr Johnson, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “When people in an office buy a cake in the middle of the afternoon for someone else they are working in the office with and stop for ten minutes to sing happy birthday and then go back to their desks, this is now called a 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 Number 10’s head operations Shelley Williams-Waller were also at the birthday bash, it is suggested.
So, when people in an office buy a cake in the middle of the afternoon for someone else they are working in the office with and stop for ten minutes to sing happy birthday and then go back to their desks, this is now called a party?
â€” Nadine Dorries (@NadineDorries) January 24, 2022
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.”
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 not yet clear whether the latest allegation will 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”.