Boris Johnson birthday party: Shapps tells media he won’t try to defend No 10 holding social event – live | Politics


Good morning. There have now been reports of so many parties or gatherings at No 10 during lockdown that it is hard to keep track (my colleague Aubrey Allegretti has a list here), but different events provoke outrage for different reasons. Some were outrageous because they were clearly full-on parties, by any definition, that could not remotely be described as work events. Two were inflammatory because they took place the night before Prince Philip’s funeral, when civil servants were supposed to be acting with particular decorum. The party in the garden on 20 May 2020 was a shocker too, because it took place despite the organiser being told being advised it was a mistake, and Boris Johnson turned up himself and now claims not to have realised it was against the rules.

In some respects the latest revelation is less serious. Whether it was a proper party is in dispute. But because it was a birthday event, it has huge resonance for all of us who did forgo proper birthday parties during lockdown because we were prepared to follow the rules outlined so often by Johnson himself.

Here is our overnight story, from my colleagues Jessica Elgot and Aubrey Allegretti.

By chance or design, Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, was doing the broadcast round for the government this morning. Shapps is one of the best broadcast performers in government, and if anyone can put a relatively positive gloss on a PR monstrosity, it’s him. But today he didn’t really try.

Yes, he argued that the event was not technically a party. He stressed that it was important to wait for the Sue Gray report into partygate. He praised Johnson’s record on Covid and the vaccine rollout, and he argued that events like the Russian threat to Ukraine were more important.

But, in his interviews, Shapps did not try to defend the birthday party/gathering and he did not contest claims that it was against the rules. “I don’t want to present a defence because I would be adding speculation to speculation,” he told the Today programme’s Justin Webb. And later Shapps said:

What’s in dispute is how many people were there, how long, whether people were socially distanced. But I’m not seeking to defend it. I’m merely saying that with a little bit of patience we can get the facts [from the Sue Gray report].

When it was put to him that the birthday event should not have gone ahead, Shapps said:

I think it’s clearly unwise to do those things, and the prime minister has already said, with reference [to the party in the No 10 garden on 20 May 2020] that he should have sent people inside.

Webb then put it to him that Adam Wagner, a lawyer who’s an expert on lockdown rules, says the birthday celebration in the cabinet room was clearly against the rules.

Adam Wagner

If the facts of this are accurate then I can’t see how it could have been lawful

19 June 2020 – indoor gatherings of 2 or more were banned unless it fell within a list of exceptions. Birthday parties (or any social gatherings) were not an exception

January 24, 2022

Shapps did not contest that. He said the event was “unwise, I’m sure, given the circumstances as we know them”.

And Webb put it to him that he knew, in his “heart of hearts”, this was not defensible. Again, Shapps did not try very hard to disagree.

The prime minister has already been categorical. He’s said that he accepts everything that’s happened under his watch, that he takes ultimate responsibility, and that mistakes are made, a better way of putting it.

Other ministers giving interviews on partygate in recent weeks have struggled, but it is hard to recall anyone putting up the white flag quite so easily. If the person put up to defend No 10 won’t even try to defend it, the PM might be in even more trouble than he realised.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: Boris Johnson chairs cabinet.

10am: Dame Cressida Dick, commissioner of the Metropolitian police, is questioned by the London assembly’s police and crime committee.

10am: Lord Evans, chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, gives evidence to the Commons standards committee on the code of conduct for MPs.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

11.30am: Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

2pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, gives a Covid statement to MSPs.

2.30pm: Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, gives evidence to the Commons defence committee on Afghanistan.

2.45pm: Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, and colleagues give evidence to the Commons standards committee about the code of conduct for MPs. At 3.30pm the MPs Jess Phillips and Sir Desmond Swayne will give evidence.

4pm: Sajid Javid, the health secretary, gives evidence to the Commons health committee.

I will be covering some UK Covid developments here, but for further coronavirus coverage, do read our global live blog.

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