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Not for the first time, Downing Street is insisting that a meet-up held during the pandemic did not break any rules. A government spokesperson has confirmed that up to 30 people “gathered briefly” to celebrate Boris Johnson’s 56th birthday on 19 June 2020, but that it happened “while work was going on” for ten minutes and therefore was “not a social event”.
Does Number 10’s defence hold water? According to Adam Wagner, human rights barrister at Doughty Street and a lockdown rule encyclopedia, no.
As reported by ITV News, Carrie Johnson, the Prime Minister’s wife, organised the surprise with friends and family, which Wagner argues was “pre-arranged” and as stated in the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations would “obviously not [be] within the rules and nobody from the govt at the time would have said for a moment it was”.
Back then, indoor meetings of two or more people were banned unless it fell within a list of exceptions, with birthdays not being one of them. Downing Street is, of course, the PM’s office but it is also his home (and as The Hound reported a fortnight ago is Crown Property).
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As far as Downing Street’s response goes, it may have a “reasonable excuse” in that the celebration itself happened in a work setting for a short period of time. But what would the justification be for the fact that on the same evening, “family friends were hosted upstairs in the Prime Minister’s residence”? Wagner says it depends on who was present and whether “they were all family or linked households”. One person who was confirmed to have participated was Lulu Lytle, the Number 11 flat interior designer.
The Metropolitan Police has confirmed that it will be investigating multiple illicit gatherings held in Westminster during the pandemic. Johnson will have to have his explanations ready when Cressida Dick’s Met comes knocking on his door.