No 10 ‘held birthday party for Boris Johnson during lockdown’

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Downing Street staff held a birthday party for Boris Johnson inside No 10 in June 2020 despite Covid lockdown rules banning all indoor socialising, according to fresh claims.

The prime minister’s wife Carrie Johnson led the surprise gathering on the afternoon of 19 June which featured up to 30 people, ITV News reported on Monday evening.

She is said to have led staff in a chorus of happy birthday, before well-wishers enjoyed picnic food from M&S at the event held just after 2pm.

The Independent has seen evidence which suggests that Mr Johnson had a birthday cake with candles which he blew out after attendees finished singing happy birthday.

A No 10 spokeswoman confirmed that a group of staff had “gathered briefly” in the Cabinet Room “to wish the prime minister a happy birthday”, adding: “He was there for less than ten minutes.”

Downing Street did not deny Mr Johnson had a birthday cake and blew out candles, but instead referred to their previous statement.

The Independent has separately been told by sources that a group joined Mr and Ms Johnson in their flat the same evening, as first reported by ITV – a claim denied by No 10.

“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 Downing Street spokeswoman added.

Interior designer Lulu Lytle – the person later caught up in the scandal over the complex funding of the PM’s flat refurbishment – also attended the afternoon birthday gathering, ITV reported.

A spokeswoman for Soane Britain, the luxury designer co-founded by Ms Lytle, said she had been in Downing Street on June 19 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,” said the spokeswoman.

Mr Johnson was also said to have been joined for food and cake by Martin Reynolds, his under-fire principal private secretary, as well as No 10 special advisers, operations and events staff.

Sir Keir Starmer responded to the latest claim of a rule-breaking party by saying Mr Johnson had become a “national distraction”, adding: “He’s got to go”.

The Labour leader added: “We’ve got a prime minister and a government that spends their whole time mopping up sleaze and deceit, meanwhile while millions of people are struggling to pay their bills.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said it was time for the “disgraced” prime minister to “save the country even more pain and resign”.

He added: “It is clear now the Sue Gray inquiry is not fit for purpose. The Met must investigate this to deliver justice for millions who sacrificed so much during this pandemic.”

One Tory MP – who has been considering whether to send a letter of no-confidence in Mr Johnson to the 1922 Committee of backbenchers – told The Independent the claims made the PM’s position more precarious.

“There’s a sense of shock about these allegations. A lot of us are still getting our heads around it. I think many MPs will still wait to hear what Sue Gray says. But it’s going to make it more difficult for him to survive.”

In June 2020 all social gatherings indoors were still banned under Covid laws. Mr Johnson had asked the public to “show restraint and respect the rules” during a press conference nine days before his birthday gathering.

Jo Goodman, co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said the latest claim was “completely sickening” and “though we’re not even surprised any more, it still brings fresh pain.”

She added: “Every day and every fresh scandal pours salt on the wounds of the hundreds of thousands who have lost loved ones – if he had any decency he would do what we and the country is calling for him to do and go.”

However, culture secretary Nadine Dorries, a staunch ally of Mr Johnson, appeared to question whether the birthday gathering would have broken the rules in place at the time.

“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?” she tweeted.

Following the latest allegations, many people on Twitter shared a letter Mr Johnson wrote to a seven-year-old girl in March 2020 after she had delayed her own birthday party because of Covid rules. “Josephine sets a great example to us all,” the PM tweeted.

The latest allegation came as senior civil servant Sue Gray continues to complete the inquiry into a series of claims of rule-breaking parties in No 10 and Whitehall departments.

Her report – which could prove critical for the PM’s political survival – was expected to be published this week. But it was not immediately clear whether the latest allegation will further delay its publication, or whether Ms Gray had been aware of the birthday event.

On Monday night, The Guardian reported claims that Ms Gray was expected to make deeply critical recommendations on overhauling No 10’s operation, after uncovering “appalling evidence of mismanagement” at the heart of Downing Street.

It came after Dominic Cummings claimed evidence was being kept from the investigation because staff fear it will be seen by Mr Johnson.

The former Downing Street adviser suggested on Monday that the fear of reporting to Ms Gray officially meant that further evidence – including photographs – will keep leaking after she publishes her report.

“I know others are very worried about handing things to the Cabinet Office because they know the PM will see everything SG [Sue Gray] collects,” Mr Cummings said in his latest blog post.

It follows The Independent’s exclusive report that officials at No 10 have held back information due to a “culture of fear” surrounding the probe.

Three sources said they had not divulged messages and pictures on their phones after a senior member of staff told them to remove anything which could be damaging following the first party revelations.