Johnson hit with lockdown birthday party claims in fresh alleged breach

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Johnson Hit With Lockdown Birthday Party Claims In Fresh Alleged Breach Johnson Hit With Lockdown Birthday Party Claims In Fresh Alleged Breach
Downing Street said staff only ‘gathered briefly’ in the Cabinet Room after a meeting. Photo: PA Images
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Sam Blewett, PA Deputy Political Editor

Boris Johnson was facing fresh allegations of breaking Covid-19 rules after it emerged a gathering to wish him a happy birthday was held inside No 10 during the England's first lockdown.

Downing Street said staff only “gathered briefly” in the Cabinet Room after a meeting, after a report from ITV News suggested up to 30 people attended what it described as a birthday party.

But the broadcaster suggested the British prime minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, had organised the surprise get-together complete with a chorus of “happy birthday” on the afternoon of June 19th, 2020, when indoor social mixing was banned.

The PA news agency was told that Lulu Lytle, the interior designer behind lavish renovations of his No 10 flat, briefly attended while undertaking work in Downing Street.

 

A No 10 spokeswoman said: “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.”

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ITV news also reported that later that evening family friends were hosted upstairs in Mr Johnson’s official residence.

Downing Street 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.”

Soane Britain, the luxury designer co-founded by Ms Lytle, said she was “present in Downing Street on June 19th working on the refurbishment”, which has been subject to multiple investigations into its funding.

“Lulu was not invited to any birthday celebrations for the prime minister as a guest,” the spokeswoman said.

“Lulu entered the Cabinet Room briefly as requested, while waiting to speak with the prime minister.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the latest revelations were “yet more evidence that we have got a prime minister who believes that the rules that he made don’t apply to him”.

“The prime minister is a national distraction and he’s got to go,” he added.

It came as senior civil servant Sue Gray was working on her inquiry into a series of claims of rule-breaking parties in No 10.

With Mr Johnson facing calls to resign from some of his own Tory MPs, the fresh allegations will present a further challenge to his bid to hold on to power.

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Ms Gray’s inquiry, which could prove pivotal for the prime minister’s political survival, is expected to be published this week.

It was not immediately clear whether the latest allegations will further delay its publication, or whether the official had already been aware of it.

ITV News said that picnic food from M&S was eaten during the afternoon gathering lasting for up to 30 minutes, while Mrs Johnson and Ms Lytle presented him with a cake.

Martin Reynolds, Mr Johnson’s under-fire principal private secretary, was also said to have attended.

British culture secretary Nadine Dorries, a staunch ally of Mr Johnson, questioned whether the 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.

Social gatherings indoors were forbidden under English lockdown laws at the time, with a relaxation of the regulations permitting gatherings of up to six people to take place outside.

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