Boris Johnson was “not partying” in newly-released photos that show him drinking with colleagues during lockdown, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said.
Mr Shapps told Sky News’ Kay Burley that the prime minister had attended the event at the end of the day to “raise a glass” to a staff member who was leaving.
The pictures are of a gathering in November 2020 to mark the departure of the PM’s then communications chief Lee Cain.
Fines have been issued to some of those who attended that event by police investigating lockdown breaches in Downing Street – but not Mr Johnson, who only received one fixed penalty notice, which related to a separate event.
Mr Shapps told Sky News: “The question is, was he down there partying? No, clearly not – he’d gone by to say thanks and raise a glass to a colleague who was leaving.”
“The police have spent a lot of time with a lot of people and a lot of resources crawling over it and they’ve come to their conclusion – as we know he wasn’t fined for that event.”
But Mr Shapps was also pressed on the prime minister’s assurance to parliament later in 2020, when asked about the gathering, that he was sure that “the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times”.
The transport secretary said that the PM’s ministerial red boxes could be seen.
“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 that as a party.”
Mr Shapps was also pressed on further controversy swirling over the PM’s meeting with senior civil servant Sue Gray, details of which were first reported by Sky News last week – ahead of the expected publication this week of her full report into the partygate affair.
A source has told Sky News that in the meeting Mr Johnson implied Ms Gray should consider dropping the report – questioning what more was left to say given that the police investigation had concluded – though this is contested by his allies. The claim was first reported by The Times newspaper.
Mr Shapps said he was not at the meeting, which he said was to arrange “timing and logistics” but said that “sometimes occasionally things get reported that are not entirely accurate”.