Boris Johnson was facing fresh allegations of breaking coronavirus rules after it emerged a gathering to wish him a happy birthday was held inside No 10 during the 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 Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, had organised the surprise get-together complete with a chorus of “happy birthday” on the afternoon of June 19 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.
56th birthday bash
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.”
ITV news also reported that later that evening family friends were hosted upstairs to further celebrate the Prime Minister’s 56th birthday in his 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 19 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.”
“Rules don’t apply to him”
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,” the Labour leader 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 the Prime Minister 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.
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 the PM with a cake.
Martin Reynolds, Mr Johnson’s under-fire principal private secretary, was also said to have attended.
Nadine Dorries fires back
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 lockdown laws at the time, with a relaxation of the regulations permitting gatherings of up to six people to take place outside.
Around 17 allegations of rule-breaking events have now been levelled across Downing Street, wider Government and the Tory party.
Jo Goodman, the co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign, said she remembers June 19 “vividly”, with it being the day before what would have been her father’s 73rd birthday, had he not died with coronavirus.
“It was a horrible time for my family, but we stuck to the rules, not even being able to hug to comfort each other,” she said.
“It’s completely sickening that the Prime Minister spent the evening sharing cake with 30 friends indoors and though we’re not even surprised any more, it still brings fresh pain. Whilst dozens sang happy birthday to him, families couldn’t even sing in memory at their loved ones funerals.
“Regardless of any report, the Prime Minister clearly needs to resign. He’s lost all credibility.”