A cabinet minister has claimed Boris Johnson was ‘clearly not partying’ when he raised a glass of fizz surrounded by booze at a No10 leaving do.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was rolled out to defend the prime minister this morning after bombshell images showed him at a party in Downing Street when Coronavirus laws were in place.
It appeared Mr Shapps also tried to excuse the behaviour by saying the PM ‘lost his mum during the period’ – although sources suggested he was misinterpreted.
Charlotte Johnson Wahl passed away ‘suddenly and peacefully’ aged 79 in September 2021 – almost a year after the PM was at the leaving drinks.
Asked how disappointed he was in the prime minister, Mr Shapps said: ‘I don’t think these things should have happened, but I think it’s probably worth recalling in context that throughout this period the Prime Minister himself had been extremely ill, had a close brush with coronavirus, he lost his mum during the period, he was dealing with the pandemic.
‘By the looks of things he goes and thanks somebody who’s leaving, he raises his glass to them.
Bombshell photos show Boris Johnson drinking at a Downing Street lockdown party on 13 November 2020 (Picture: ITV News)
‘And as I say, I – having like everyone in this country lived through coronavirus and in many cases made enormous sacrifices – don’t enjoy seeing pictures that suggest anything else.
‘But this is well-covered territory, we’ve seen this, we’ve heard about this, the only difference is seeing the photograph.’
Sources stress Grant Shapps was talking about the period of the Covid pandemic more generally, and not trying to suggest Boris Johnson was mourning his mother during the party itself.
The pictures, published by ITV last night, show Mr Johnson toasting staff at a leaving do for former No 10 Comms director Lee Cain, which took place on November 13, 2020.
Bottles of alcohol and food can be seen on the table in front of him – with at least eight people standing closely together.
The nation had been plunged into its second national lockdown a week earlier, meaning indoor mixing between different households was banned.
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Mr Johnson is accused of lying to Parliament because he explicitly denied any party took place in No10 on the date the photos were taken.
After reports of the event emerged last year, Labour MP Catherine West asked him in the Commons: ‘Will the prime minister tell the House whether there was a party in Downing Street on 13 November?’
He replied: ‘No, but I’m sure whatever happened the guidance… and the rules were followed at all times.’
Mr Shapps today indicated the prime minister will deny he lied – because he ‘wasn’t partying’.
Asked if the PM misled Parliament, he told Sky News: ‘The question was was he down there partying – no, clearly not.
‘He’d gone by to say thanks and raise a glass to a colleague who was leaving.’
He added that the PM had his ministerial red box on the chair next to him – so was ‘probably’ on his way to do some work.
Grant Shapps was rolled out to defend the prime minister this morning (Picture: Reuters)
After police did not even investigate Mr Johnson over the event, but did fine other No 10 staff on the same date, Mr Shapps said: ‘The police have spent a lot of time with a lot of people and a lot of resources crawling over it and they’ve come to their conclusion, as we know he wasn’t fined for that.’
Mr Johnson is facing an investigation by the Commons Privileges Committee into whether he lied to parliament over partygate.
The PM told the house rules were followed ‘at all times’ – despite the Met Police issuing 126 fines for events on eight different dates.
That means Downing Street has become the address with the most Covid breaches in Britain while Boris Johnson, who was fined for attending a party for his 56th birthday, is the first ever sitting prime minister found to have broken the law.
However, the PM was expected to get multiple fines for allegedly attending six out of 12 events under investigation.
Some junior staff have reportedly been fined for events the PM attended but was not fined for.
Now, the Lib Dems have written to the police watchdog to ask them to investigate how the Metropolitan Police reached their conclusions of only issuing the PM one fine.
It comes as Downing Street denies that Boris Johnson suggested to Sue Gray that she should drop her report into lockdown parties in Whitehall.
The Times reported that the PM tried to convince the senior civil servant her report was no longer necessary because it was ‘all out there’ due to Scotland Yard’s investigation.
Mr Shapps was unable to refute the reports this morning.
‘I wasn’t in the room so I don’t know that’s the case,’ the Transport Secretary told Sky News.
The PM’s spokesperson has since said: ‘This was a legitimate meeting about the process rather than the contents of the report.
‘The Prime Minister did not ask her to drop the report or not proceed with the report.
‘The Prime Minister commissioned the report, initially by the Cabinet Secretary, and wants it to be published.’
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