British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has apologised after a report found alcohol-fuelled parties at his offices and residence while COVID-19 lockdown rules were in force should never have taken place.
The report into the lockdown-breaching parties at his offices criticised “failures of leadership and judgment” at the heart of the British government.
The document was submitted to Downing Street on Monday by senior civil servant Sue Gray, who investigated a series of revelations about boozy get-togethers held while the government told the public to remain socially distanced.
“At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of Government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time,” the report said.
“Against the backdrop of the pandemic, when the government was asking citizens to accept far-reaching restrictions on their lives, some of the behavior surrounding these gatherings is difficult to justify,” it added.
The strongly worded findings are a blow to Johnson – who has previously said the rules were followed at all times – and came despite the fact that Gray’s conclusions relate to just four of the 16 events she investigated.
Her findings on 12 other events in 2020 and 2021 have been withheld at the request of the police, who have launched a criminal investigation into the most serious alleged breaches of coronavirus rules.
The cuts have led opponents to accuse Johnson of a whitewash.
‘I get it and I will fix it’
Johnson appeared in parliament on Monday afternoon following the report’s publication to apologise again and to pledge to make changes at his office.
“I want to say sorry. I get it and I will fix it,” he said in a raucous debate.
“I’m sorry for the things that we simply didn’t get right and also sorry for the way this matter has been handled,” he told MPs.
Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, accused him of blaming everyone else but himself and again called on him to resign.
“There can be no doubt that the prime minister himself is now subject to criminal investigation,” Starmer told parliament.
Among the events under investigation by police are a June 2020 birthday party for Johnson and two gatherings held on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral in April 2021.
Allegations that the prime minister and his staff flouted restrictions imposed on the country to curb the spread of the coronavirus have caused public anger, led some Conservative lawmakers to call for Johnson’s resignation and triggered intense infighting inside the governing party.
Johnson has denied personal wrongdoing and said he has “absolutely no intention” of resigning.
But Johnson’s grip on power has been weakened by allegations that he and his staff flouted restrictions they imposed on the country in 2020 and 2021 to curb the spread of the coronavirus with “bring your own booze” office parties, birthday celebrations and “wine time Fridays”.
Publication of Gray’s report was delayed when the Metropolitan Police force launched its own investigation last week into the most serious alleged breaches of coronavirus rules.
The force said it had asked for Gray’s report to make only “minimal reference” to the events being investigated by detectives “to avoid any prejudice to our investigation”.
Johnson’s opponents accused the government of trying to water down a report that could trigger an attempt to remove the prime minister by his own party.
Some Conservative lawmakers have said they will push for a no-confidence vote if Gray finds Johnson was at fault or lied to Parliament about his actions.
The circumscribed and partial report may give Johnson at least a temporary reprieve from calls for his removal.
“It’s a mess,” said Will Walden, a former Johnson aide. “It’s probably bad for democracy, but inadvertently good for the PM.”
It is unclear whether Gray’s full findings will be published once the police investigation is finished.
Johnson’s spokesman, Max Blain, said the prime minister’s office would discuss with police and Gray’s team “what is suitable” to publish.
Johnson could be interviewed by detectives as part of their probe and may face a fine if he is found to have breached the law.