Liz Truss caught Covid and cancelled key Ukraine trip days after birthday party

8 February 2022, 07:55 | Updated: 8 February 2022, 08:57

Liz Truss announced she had caught Covid, forcing her to cancel her trip to Ukraine. Two days earlier, a birthday dinner was held for Therese Coffey
Liz Truss announced she had caught Covid, forcing her to cancel her trip to Ukraine. Two days earlier, a birthday dinner was held for Therese Coffey. Picture: Alamy
Theo Usherwood

By Theo Usherwood

The Foreign Secretary’s trip to Ukraine last week was supposed to be her chance to stand tall on the world stage.

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To show strength as Russian President Vladimir Putin threatens to launch a military invasion across Ukraine’s eastern border.

But with a matter of hours before Liz Truss was due to fly out, she cancelled the trip after testing positive for Covid-19 and announcing that she would be self-isolating at home.

Now LBC can reveal that the Saturday before the trip, Ms Truss held a belated 50th birthday dinner party for her colleague, the Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey, at Chevening.

Digital Economy Minister Chris Philp told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast people should not "begrudge" the pair for having a party, and denied there was a party culture in Downing Street.

Therese Coffey did not catch Covid at the event and carried on her duties as normal last week.

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It is of course the Foreign Secretary’s grace-and-favour residence she shares with the Deputy PM, Dominic Raab.

But sources tell me that also at the event were a number of special adviser, and former special advisers.

The implication: that it was an opportunity to get away from London and plot her bid to be Prime Minister.

Although no rules were broken, it doesn’t reflect well on the Foreign Secretary for a number of other reasons.

This party happened on January 29, the Saturday evening. Two days later on the Monday of last week, Sue Gray published her report into the Downing Street parties.

As one senior Tory put it to me: "So arrogant, so tone-deaf, so stupid."

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During her planned trip to Ukraine, the Foreign Secretary had been due to meet with the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, as fears grew about a build-up of Russian military on the border between the two countries.

That trip was cancelled but Ms Truss is now due to meet with her Russian counter-part Sergey Lavrov this week, when she flies out to Moscow on Thursday.

It is the first visit by a Foreign Secretary to the Russian capital in four years.

But those I have spoken to, tell me that in their view this episode shows she’s just interested in a photo opportunity and would be a disaster as PM.

Just a final note, we understand one official who attended the event also tested positive for Covid immediately afterwards.

The Foreign Secretary’s team say this they consider this a private event and they don't comment on private events.

When Mr Philp was asked by Nick if it was "just party after party" in Downing Street, he said: "From where I'm sitting it certainly isn't."

The Conservative MP for Croydon South said he and his colleagues worked "extremely long hours" and denied there was a party culture.

"I haven't been invited to any of these parties," he said.

"I don't think we should begrudge Therese Coffey and Liz Truss a birthday dinner, to be honest, I'm sure we've all been to birthday dinners since the lockdown restrictions have been eased."

It is understood that despite speculation, this party was to lay the groundwork for a leadership bid. The Foreign Secretary held the dinner for Dr Coffey as she is one of her oldest and closest friends in politics.