Why Grant Shapps removed Boris Johnson from a Virgin Orbit photo

Grant Shapps has apologised after “inadvertently” airbrushing Boris Johnson out of a photo on social media.

The Business Secretary was accused of removing the ex-prime minister from a snap with the Virgin Orbit aircraft taken back in June 2022, and posted again ahead of its launch from Cornwall.

In the now-deleted tweet, Shapps wrote on Twitter: “The UK Govt is delighted to be backing the FIRST ever satellite launch on European soil. Lift-off scheduled on Monday at Spaceport Cornwall, Newquay.”

However, there were actually four people in the original image – rather than the three in the former transport secretary’s version – and the post was later taken down.

Now, Shapps has spoken about the embarrassing incident by jokingly claiming that he told his team to ‘hairbrush’ Johnson, not ‘airbrush’.

“I think it’s fitting if I start with the apology. I saw that I inadvertently airbrushed him out of a picture on Twitter last week,” Shapps said while speaking in the Commons.

“I think my team were confused. I simply told the team he needs ‘hair brushing’, not ‘air brushing. No-one did more to progress space as [Johnson] as prime minister and although that launch wasn’t successful last week, it is the start of a very important new sector in this country.”

The minister added: “On his point about small modular reactors he is absolutely right, we will be announcing the creation of Great British Nuclear very shortly and small modular reactors, Rolls-Royce and the others, play an amazingly important part in this nuclear mix which will get back us up to 25% of our power from nuclear.”

Johnson can be seen laughing in the benches behind Shapps in a video posted to social media.

The Virgin Orbit launch was intended to be a demonstration of the UK’s plan to be a space nation of the future, launching unprecedented rockets and satellites into orbit. However, last week’s launch attempt ended in failure after suffering an “anomaly” during the flight.