Boris Johnson does not think he was attending a party after leaked images show him raising a glass at a Downing Street leaving do during lockdown, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.
The images, obtained by ITV News, were taken at a do for departing communications chief Lee Cain on 13 November 2020, eight days after the Prime Minister had ordered a second national lockdown in England.
At the time, Covid restrictions meant people were banned from social mixing, other than to meet one person outside.
The four photos, published on Monday (23 May), show Mr Johnson with a drink in his hand while standing behind a table littered with wine bottles and food.
He was not fined by the Metropolitan Police over the event seen in the images, which show at least nine people in close proximity along with six bottles of wine.
What did Grant Shapps say?
Mr Shapps defended the PM and said the photos do not change what the police and Sue Gray, the senior civil servant who investigated lockdown breaches in Whitehall, already know.
The Cabinet minister told Sky News: “I don’t think the fact of the pictures, us seeing them for the first time, changes what the police and Sue Gray already know.
“I see his red box is there, which is his work box, it looks to me like he goes down on his way out of the office and thanks the staff and raises a glass, and doesn’t in his mind recognise it as a party. And indeed the police have looked into this and spent a lot of time and resources.”
Asked if he is comfortable with the photographs, he said: “I’m not, I couldn’t see my own dad for a long period of time because we were obeying the rules but I also accept the Prime Minister has long since apologised, has made fundamental reforms in No 10 and have no doubt if he had his time again he wouldn’t have dropped by to say thank you to a member of staff leaving.”
‘It shouldn’t have happened’
Mr Shapps said the Prime Minister will be “disappointed” to see the images of him raising a glass at a leaving party during lockdown, and admitted that it “shouldn’t have happened”.
He told BBC Breakfast: “I think we, personally, find them very difficult to look at. I couldn’t see my own dad for four months during this period because he was in hospital and we thought we’d lost him at one point.
“I think actually looking at this as well the Prime Minister will be disappointed.
“I think he’s popped down there to raise a glass and say thank you to a long-term member of staff who is leaving. My view is it shouldn’t have happened”.
Mr Shapps declined to call it a party when pressed, instead saying: “It’s certainly a leaving event.”
He said he awaits the Sue Gray report “quite imminently now”.
The leaked photos have sparked fresh accusations that Mr Johnson lied to Parliament after he told MPs in December that “rules were followed at all times” when asked during Prime Minister’s Questions about Mr Cain’s leaving party.
Labour said there was now “no doubt” that Mr Johnson had “lied” to MPs.
Downing Street declined to defend the scene portrayed, saying the Prime Minister will comment after the Sue Gray report into partygate is published in the coming days.
A No 10 spokeswoman said: “The Cabinet Office and the Met Police have had access to all information relevant to their investigations, including photographs.
“The Met have concluded their investigation and Sue Gray will publish her report in the coming days, at which point the Prime Minister will address Parliament in full.”