British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had a birthday celebration inside Number 10 during the first COVID-19 lockdown, Downing Street has admitted.
ITV News reported on Monday that 30 people attended the indoor event and shared a cake after Johnson’s wife Carrie organised the surprise get-together on the afternoon of June 19, 2020.
Downing Street later admitted that staff “gathered briefly” in the Cabinet Room following a meeting.
At the time, social gatherings indoors were forbidden under lockdown rules, though gatherings of up to six people were permitted to take place outside.
A Downing Street 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.”
ITV News also reported that, later that evening, family and friends were hosted in the prime minister’s official residence upstairs for further celebrations.
But the prime minister’s 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.”
The new revelation has further deepened the political crisis fuelled by a series of alleged violations of lockdown rules in Downing Street during the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called it “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.
Cabinet members have defended the prime minister. Environment Secretary George Eustice told reporters on Monday, “What really happened here is a small group of staff who had been working closely with the prime minister brought in a birthday cake at the end of the day and there was 10 minutes there around sharing a piece of cake.”
“I don’t think that really constitutes a party in the way some of the more serious allegations that are being investigated maybe do,” he said.
Talking to BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme on Tuesday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said it was disputed how many people attended, and that the surprise gathering had not been organised by Carrie Johnson as reported.
But Shapps said “it clearly shouldn’t happen” and that people should have stuck by the rules.
He said staff would have “thought they were being kind” by marking the prime minister’s birthday but it was “almost certainly very unwise.”
PA Media contributed to this report.