Boris Johnson's lockdown-breaking birthday party was three years ago today - he's had a terrible time since

Boris Johnson's lockdown-breaking birthday party was three years ago today - he's had a terrible time since

Related video: Moment Boris Johnson misleads Commons claiming rules were followed 'at all times'


Happy Birthday to Boris Johnson – our present to him is a reminder of the fact that exactly three years ago today, he broke public health laws he drew up and implemented during an outbreak of a deadly virus, by having a birthday party in Downing Street while most of us followed the rules.

And the scandal, forever known as Partygate, is the gift that keeps on giving in terms of causing further political turmoil for the former prime minister and ex-MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – Mr Johnson’s resignation as a member of parliament happened only this month, and there were plenty of other dramatic moments faced by the Conservative politician after making such an outrageous decision.

Here’s a recap.

When the news first broke

The Times reported a day after the event that Mr Johnson “celebrated his 56th birthday” with “a small gathering in the cabinet room”.

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“Rishi Sunak, the chancellor; and a group of aides sang him ‘Happy Birthday’ before they tucked into a Union Jack cake.

“The celebrations provided a brief respite after another gruelling week that featured two U-turns in 48 hours, Conservative backbenchers in open revolt and the government’s competence called into question again,” wrote the paper’s political editor.

Though weirdly, no one really noticed until ITV News reported on the party in January 2022 – almost two years later.

The broadcaster said it understood that the surprise party was organised by the then PM’s wife Carrie Johnson, with up to 30 people attending.

The party lasted for around 20 to 30 minutes and reportedly involved nibbles from M&S, but Downing Street said at the time that Mr Johnson only hung around for less than 10 minutes.

When this party took place, gatherings indoors were banned and you could only meet with people outside under the so-called “rule of six”.

No 10 told ITV News: “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 ten minutes.”

Later that month, the then second permanent secretary of the Cabinet Office – Sue Gray – shared an update on her ongoing inquiry into lockdown-breaching parties in which she said the reported gathering on 19 June was in scope.

But more on that later, as the ex-civil servant could only publish an “update” in January 2022 because of…

A Metropolitan Police investigation

On the same day that news surfaced of the birthday party, then Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick confirmed to the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee that it was finally launching an investigation into all the suspected lockdown breaches in Downing Street.

She said: “What I can tell you this morning is that as a result of the information provided by the Cabinet Office inquiry team and, secondly, my officers’ own assessment, I can confirm that the Met is now investigating a number of events that took place at Downing Street and Whitehall in the last two years in relation to potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations.”

The first PM found to have broken the law while in office

The next big blow came in April 2022, when Downing Street was notified of the Met’s intention to issue a fixed penalty notice to Mr Johnson over a breach of lockdown rules, and when the fine was issued, it pertained to that particular birthday party in Downing Street.

In a statement apologising for breaking the rules he helped set, Mr Johnson explained: “On the day that happened to be my birthday, there was a brief gathering in the cabinet room, shortly after 2pm, lasting for less than 10 minutes, during which people I work with kindly passed on their good wishes.

“I have to say, in all frankness, at that time, it did not occur to me that this might have been a breach of the rules, but of course, the police have found otherwise and I fully respect the outcome of their investigation.”

However, Mr Johnson’s continued insistence that he didn’t think or consider his actions to be in breach of his own restrictions would come back to bite him…

An investigation by the Privileges Committee

Given Mr Johnson had made a number of comments in the House of Commons about rules being followed within No 10, only for the issuing of a fine by the Met Police to suggest otherwise, MPs passed a motion calling on the Privileges Committee to investigate whether the then prime minister deliberately misled the House – a serious accusation which can result in a suspension and possibly a by-election if found to be the case.

More on this later (again)…

Sue Gray’s final report

Going further than what was contained in her January update, the iconic Sue Gray published the full 60-page report in May 2022, containing damning photos of Mr Johnson admiring a plate of nibbles and raising a can of Coca Cola during the birthday celebrations.

“The Prime Minister was not aware of this event in advance and it did not form part of his official diary for the day,” Ms Gray noted.

But this was not the end of Partygate…

Mr Johnson resigns

Already facing heat over Partygate, other scandals stacked up to the extent that there were mass resignations, eventually resulting in Mr Johnson throwing in the towel and standing down as PM in July 2022.

Moving on…

Being forced to swear on the Bible while giving evidence to the Privileges Committee

In pretty remarkable scenes, as Mr Johnson gave oral evidence to the group of MPs deciding whether he mislead the House in March 2023, the then Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP had to swear on the Bible that he was telling the truth.


He told MPs then that receiving a fixed penalty notice for the birthday party ““boggled my mind because I could not understand why I had got it”.

Mr Johnson resigns (this time as an MP)

Even before the committee could publish its findings and its report, Mr Johnson kind of hinted it wasn’t exactly favourable towards him by making a shock resignation in early June, releasing a lengthy statement in which he said: “I am bewildered and appalled that I can be forced out, anti-democratically, by a committee chaired and managed, by Harriet Harman, with such egregious bias.”

As we’ve already pointed out, though, MPs voted for the committee to investigate Mr Johnson – that’s about as democratic as it can get.

The Privileges Committee publishes its report

The actual report itself, though, came on Thursday this week, when the committee concluded Mr Johnson committed “repeated contempts” and that if he hadn’t resigned prior to the report being published, they would have recommended he be suspended as an MP for 90 days – a period which, if voted for by MPs, would have triggered a recall petition in his constituency where voters could have pushed for a by-election.

The committee added he deliberately misled the House and the committee, and was “complicit in the campaign of abuse and attempted intimidation of the committee”.

As for the birthday party event in question, the MPs wrote: “We conclude that there is evidence that the gathering in the Cabinet Room to celebrate Mr Johnson’s birthday on 19 June 2020 was attended by at least 17 people other than Mr Johnson, including by individuals who were not his work colleagues, and that it was not socially distanced.

“We note that Mr Johnson did not explain why he believed the event was ‘reasonably necessary for work purposes’ other than to say that it took place immediately before a work meeting, and that ‘it seemed to me ... perfectly proper’ for officials to be ‘asked to come and wish me a happy birthday’ which we do not regard as convincing.

“Mr Johnson was also unable to explain why he considered his wife and interior designer ‘absolutely necessary participants’ in a work-related meeting. His assertion that the Prime Minister’s family are entitled to use every part of the building does not constitute an explanation.

“We note that the Metropolitan Police issued Mr Johnson a fixed penalty notice in connection with this event. Mr Johnson accepts that his attendance was unlawful but states that he is not clear precisely how he committed an offence.

“We note that he had the right in law to decline to accept the FPN if he had wished to assert he had committed no offence, but that he chose not to do so.”


Yet another possible police investigation?

And away from all of this, the public inquiry into the UK Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been ticking along in the background, and after Mr Johnson’s former lawyers reviewed documents from him during his time in office, they passed on the information to the Cabinet Office after it revealed information about friends visiting the PM’s Chequers retreat while restrictions were in place.

The Cabinet Office felt duty-bound to pass this onto the Privileges Committee, the Metropolitan Police and Thames Valley Police – the latter two of which have confirmed they are reviewing the material.

Will it ever end?

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