Prime minister Boris Johnson has informed Parliament that he has been “humbled by the whole experience” of reading through the findings of Sue Gray’s report into Partygate, adding that he took “full responsibility for everything that took place on my watch”.
Sue Gray’s report into gatherings which took place in government buildings while Covid lockdown laws were in place damningly concluded that Downing Street staff regularly partied while the rest of the country was in lockdown, and their leaders enabled it to happen.
Gray’s report said that the prime minister and his officials had to “bear responsibility for this culture” of excessive drinking in government settings and that many gatherings that took place “should not have been allowed”.
Excessive drinking within Downing Street led to staff being sick on site, and cleaning and security staff being subject to verbal abuse, the report added.
Security staff had also warned partygoers that their actions were in breach of the rules, but these warnings were ignored according to Gray.
One of the most incriminating findings within the report included accounts of staff partying until after 04:00am on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral, during which the Queen sat alone to comply with restrictions in place at the time.
Gray also uncovered messages sent to Johnson’s aide, Martin Reynolds, advising him to cancel a “bring your own booze” party in the Downing Street Garden in May 2020, given that it posed “somewhat of a comms risk”.
Reynolds was informed by an unnamed adviser over WhatsApp that staff ought to avoid “walking around waving bottles of wine” prior to the event, since it was set to take place shortly after the conclusion of a televised Covid daily briefing. Reynolds himself then told another adviser that “we seem to have got away with” the party having taken place after it had happened.
Reynolds no longer works in Downing Street and has returned to his previous post at the Foreign Office.
While the prime minister has received a fine from the Metropolitan Police for his part in a gathering for his birthday in the Cabinet Room on June 19, 2020, Gray also found that he hosted five special advisers with “food and alcohol” at his Downing Street flat in November 2020, on the evening that Dominic Cummings quit as Johnson’s aide. The PM did not receive a fine for this.
The conclusion of Sue Gray’s report read: “Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen. It is also the case that some of the more junior civil servants believed that their involvement in some of these events was permitted given the attendance of senior leaders.
“The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.”
Responding to the report in the House of Commons, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called on Johnson’s fellow Conservative MPs to remove him.
Sir Keir said: “The game is up. You cannot be a law maker and a law breaker. It is time to pack his bags. Only then can the government function again and restore the dignity of that great office [of prime minister] and the democracy that it represents.”
Senior Tory backbench MP, Tobias Ellwood, questioned his fellow Conservatives on their willingness to defend the prime minister's conduct, suggesting it could be damaging for the party’s prospects at the polls in future.
Ellwood said: “Are you [Tory MPs] willing day in and day out to defend this behaviour publicly? Can we win the general election on this current trajectory?"
The publication of Gray’s full report comes after the Met’s probe into Partygate concluded.
126 fines were issued by the police to 83 individuals for Covid rule breaches across 12 different events between May 2020 and April 2020. Meanwhile, Gray’s report included details from 16 gatherings which took place within the same timeframe.
The prime minister's next obstacle is an investigation by the Commons Privileges Committee, which seeks to determine whether he deliberately misled Parliament over the parties having taken place.
Johnson previously told the Commons that Covid guidance was observed at all times within Downing Street. On Wednesday, following the publication of Gray's report, he conceded that this information was incorrect, but denied lying to MPs about the gatherings.
Johnson claimed that he’d been led to believe that government staff had been compliant with the rules, and he had merely informed MPs of what he had believed to be true.
The PM said: “I am happy to set on the record now that when I said - I came to this House and said in all sincerity - the rules and guidance had been followed at all times, it was what I believed to be true.
“It was certainly the case when I was present at gatherings to wish staff farewell, and the House will note that my attendance at these moments - brief as it was - has not been found to be outside the rules.”
Johnson said that he had been left “shocked” and “appalled” by the conclusions of the report and of the treatment of security and cleaning staff but insisted that it was time to “move on” to more pressing matters.
Sir Keir attacked the conduct of those working within Downing Street, saying that they had “treated the sacrifice of the British people with utter contempt” through their actions.
Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, repeated Sir Keir’s calls for Tory MPs to remove the prime minister and questioned why Johnson remained in post.
“Any other PM would be forced to resign by a report as damaging as this, yet still Conservative MPs defend Johnson and allow him to cling on,” Sir Ed said.
Image taken from Wikimedia Commons