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25 January 2022

Will Boris’s birthday bash be the turning point?

The latest revelations might render Tory MPs immune to even No 10’s whipping operation.

By Ailbhe Rea

Boris Johnson is under renewed pressure this morning after fresh revelations of two further parties in No 10 when social gatherings indoors were illegal. No, you haven’t just clicked on an old article. It’s the same old story, except it isn’t Dom in the garden with a Chardonnay, or staffers in the basement with a suitcase of wine. This time it’s Carrie in the cabinet room with a birthday cake. 

The revelations revealed by ITV News last night detail a gathering on the afternoon of the Prime Minister’s birthday on 19 June 2020, when 30 or so people met in the cabinet room to sing happy birthday and enjoy cake and a M&S buffet. Carrie Johnson and Rishi Sunak were there. In a lovely plot crossover with “wallpapergate” (these screenwriters do get better and better), so too was Lulu Lytle, the Johnsons’ interior designer.

​​​​​The birthday celebration has been dismissed by Johnson’s defenders as simply cake in the office among colleagues who were already working together. But, even aside from the presence of Carrie Johnson and Lytle to throw that claim into doubt, this was at a time when indoor social gatherings were illegal. What’s more, there is a further allegation, strongly denied by Downing Street, that the Johnsons hosted family friends in the Downing Street flat that evening in a further and, if true, unambiguous breach of the rules. No 10 has said that the Prime Minister hosted a small number of friends outside. Sue Gray is understood to have already been made aware of these allegations – but this may be overtaken by more recent events: this morning, Cressida Dick said that the Met Police will investigate lockdown events at Downing Street and Whitehall, after being referred by Sue Gray.

Johnson loyalists have undertaken a parallel whipping operation in recent days to log the feelings of every Tory MP and gauge the level of support for the Prime Minister. One bemused Tory MP thought he was just having a catch-up with a minister before it became clear that “something else was going on”, finding himself peppered with questions about Johnson and what needs to change in No 10. He left wondering which Tory leadership contender they were canvassing support for, before clocking, days later, that it was the operation to save Johnson himself. With these new revelations, the Johnson operation may find that moods have hardened again among MPs like this one, and that those willing to give the Prime Minister a chance last week are exasperated and exhausted by yet further scandals.

The fate of Boris Johnson is all anyone in Westminster can talk about, even with the twin crises of a cost-of-living crisis at home and an escalating diplomatic situation in Ukraine. Some people think Johnson might yet survive to fight the next election, others give him six months to a year, and many others are confident that once Sue Gray’s report drops, 54 letters will be in and Johnson will be out.

[See also: Cressida Dick confirms Met Police will investigate No 10 parties]

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