Boris Johnson was facing fresh allegations of breaking coronavirus rules after it emerged a gathering to wish him a happy birthday was held inside No 10 during the first lockdown.
Downing Street said staff “gathered briefly” in the Cabinet Room after a meeting, in response to a report from ITV News which suggested up to 30 people attended what it described as a birthday party.
But the broadcaster suggested the Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, had organised the surprise get-together complete with a chorus of “happy birthday” on the afternoon of June 19 2020, when indoor social mixing was banned.
Interior designer Lulu Lytle admitted attending while carrying out the lavish and controversial work to their flat above No 11 Downing Street, but insisted she was only present “briefly” while waiting to talk to Mr Johnson.
A No 10 spokeswoman said: “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.”
ITV news also reported later that evening family friends were hosted upstairs to further celebrate the Prime Minister’s 56th birthday in his official residence.
Downing Street 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.”
Soane Britain, the luxury designer co-founded by Ms Lytle, said she was “present in Downing Street on June 19 working on the refurbishment”, which has been subject to multiple investigations over its funding.
“Lulu was not invited to any birthday celebrations for the Prime Minister as a guest,” the spokeswoman said.
“Lulu entered the Cabinet Room briefly as requested, while waiting to speak with the Prime Minister.”
Sir Keir Starmer said the latest revelations were “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,” the Labour leader added.
It came as senior civil servant Sue Gray was working on her inquiry into a series of claims of rule-breaking parties in No 10 as Mr Johnson faces calls to resign as Prime Minister, including from some of his own Conservative MPs.
The PA news agency understood she was already aware of the birthday party allegations and therefore their emergence will not further delay the publication of her investigation, which is still expected this week.
Earlier on June 19 2020, Mr Johnson visited a school in Hertfordshire where pupils they sang him happy birthday as he posed socially distanced with them.
ITV News said that picnic food from M&S was eaten during the afternoon gathering starting just after 2pm and lasting for up to 30 minutes, while Mrs Johnson and Ms Lytle presented the PM with a cake.
Martin Reynolds, Mr Johnson’s under-fire principal private secretary, was also said to have attended.
Social gatherings indoors were forbidden under lockdown laws at the time, with a relaxation of the regulations permitting gatherings of up to six people to take place outside.
Around 17 allegations of rule-breaking events have now been levelled across Downing Street, wider Government and the Tory party.
Jo Goodman, the co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign, said she remembers June 19 “vividly”, with it being the day before what would have been her father’s 73rd birthday, had he not died with coronavirus.
“It was a horrible time for my family, but we stuck to the rules, not even being able to hug to comfort each other,” she said.
“It’s completely sickening that the Prime Minister spent the evening sharing cake with 30 friends indoors and though we’re not even surprised any more, it still brings fresh pain. Whilst dozens sang happy birthday to him, families couldn’t even sing in memory at their loved ones funerals.
“Regardless of any report, the Prime Minister clearly needs to resign. He’s lost all credibility.”
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, a staunch ally of Mr Johnson, questioned whether the gathering would have broken the rules in place at the time.
“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?” she tweeted.
Environment Secretary George Eustice told reporters: “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.”
A spokeswoman for Mrs Johnson declined to comment.
Former Tory party chair Baroness Warsi told Channel 4 News: “Anybody who was at a party where rules were broken, whether that’s the Prime Minister, ministers, special advisers, or civil servants, should resign.
“If you are in a place which makes the rules and you are seen not to be following those rules, then you should fall on your sword.”
Leader of the Liberal Democrats Sir Ed Davey called for the Metropolitan Police to investigate the latest allegations to “deliver justice for millions who sacrificed so much during this pandemic”.
Scotland Yard reiterated its previous statement, saying if Ms Gray’s inquiry finds evidence of a potential criminal offence then officers will make a “further consideration” on whether to investigate.