Boris Johnson’s spokesman refuses to say if PM broke social distancing rules at meeting with ’50 Tory MPs’

Downing Street has insisted Boris Johnson follows his own social distancing rules after he reportedly breached them by packing into a room with 50 Tory MPs.

The prime minister’s spokesman repeatedly refused to be drawn on whether Mr Johnson’s actions at the meeting on Wednesday were legal under coronavirus legislation.

The PM had called a meeting of the 1922 committee of backbench MPs on the same day that Downing Street posted on Twitter: “Gatherings of more than 30 people are illegal. Breaking the rules could cost you thousands.”

The Bloomberg news agency said multiple sources in the room admitted 50 people were there, despite being marked for a maximum of 29 people to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Mr Johnson remarked that his colleagues were packed “cheek by jowl” as he gave a speech to the 1922 committee, Bloomberg reported attendees as saying.

Challenged to deny the report, Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: “Given this was a political event, I’m not privy to any of the details. I’ll have to forward you to my political colleagues.”

Asked why the prime minister did not walk out, the spokesman repeated: “I’m not privy to the details, it was a political event. I would point you to my political colleagues.”.

Asked if Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who has been hot on MPs following social distancing in parliament, had raised concerns, the spokesman said: “As a civil servant, I’m not privy to political events.”

When it was pointed out it was a question of safety, he added: “It’s a question about something I’m not privy to the details of.”

Finally asked to clarify if Mr Johnson obeys his own distancing rules, the spokesman clarified: “Yes.”

The exchange came at the daily lobby briefing of political journalists, where the prime minister’s spokesman answers questions on a range of topics.

An invite sent out to all Tory MPs ahead of the 1922 committee meeting promised “we will be respecting social distancing as far as possible”.

Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the powerful committee of backbenchers, insisted “social distancing of one metre plus was maintained”.

But Liberal Democrat frontbencher Wera Hobhouse has called for a “full investigation” and said the reports “undermine faith in government and ultimately impact the effectiveness of government public health messaging”.

A House of Commons spokesperson said: “The UK Parliament is a COVID-19 secure workplace, meeting all government guidance.”

It comes days after Defence Secretary Ben Wallace apologised for shaking hands with a colleague before heading into what was billed as the first in-person socially-distanced cabinet meeting of the new parliamentary term.

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