LONDON — Another day, another claim that Boris Johnson or his associates held a lockdown-breaking party.
On Monday, ITV News reported that a birthday party was thrown for the prime minister during the first coronavirus lockdown in the U.K. despite a strict ban on socializing indoors.
The broadcaster reported that the prime minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, organized a surprise get-together for him on the afternoon of June 19, 2020.
The allegation piles more pressure on a government rocked by multiple reports of lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street and on Whitehall since the start of the pandemic.
Johnson himself is accused of illegally attending some of the gatherings, including a pre-planned “bring your own booze” party in the Downing Street garden in May 2020. Though the prime minister admitted he attended that gathering and apologized to the public, he said he thought it was a work event.
Perhaps even more damaging were reports in the Daily Telegraph — Johnson’s former employer — that two separate staff parties were held in Downing Street on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral last year. At the time Britain was still in strict lockdown, meaning indoor mixing was banned. The day after the alleged parties, the queen was pictured sitting alone and wearing a mask as she mourned the loss of her husband of 73 years. Downing Street has apologized to the monarch.
The man originally tasked with investigating the alleged parties, Simon Case, the U.K.’s top civil servant, himself attended an impromptu Christmas gathering in mid-December 2020 in an apparent breach of COVID rules, according to multiple Whitehall officials.
Case subsequently stepped down from the investigation and senior civil servant Sue Gray took over. She is expected to report shortly.
A No. 10 spokesperson told ITV in response to the latest story: “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 10 minutes.”
Cabinet minister Nadine Dorries, one of Johnson’s fiercest defenders, tweeted: “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?”
Lulu Lytle, the interior designer who was hired to renovate Johnson’s Downing Street flat, was among those reportedly present at the gathering of up to 30 people. Carrie Johnson is said to have presented the prime minister with a cake alongside Lytle and led staff in a chorus of “happy birthday.” In June 2020, social gatherings indoors were still forbidden under the U.K.’s lockdown laws, while choirs were banned from singing.
ITV also reported that family friends of the prime minister were hosted in his flat later in the evening of June 19, in another apparent breach of coronavirus regulations. No. 10 denied that “totally untrue” allegation and said Johnson had hosted a small group of people outside.
Seizing on the latest claims, opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer said: “We cannot afford to go on with this chaotic, rudderless government. The prime minister is a national distraction and he’s got to go.”
This article has been updated.