Sue Gray report blames senior UK leadership for lockdown parties

Senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report into the ‘Partygate’ scandal puts responsibility with those at the top.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves the 10 Downing Street
Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to take questions in Parliament [John Sibley/Reuters]

A report into lockdown-breaching UK government parties has said blame for a “culture” of rule-breaking in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office must rest with those at the top.

Senior civil servant Sue Gray’s long-awaited report into the “Partygate” scandal published on Wednesday said the “senior leadership team … must bear responsibility” for a culture that allowed events to take place that “should not have been allowed to happen”.

Gray investigated 16 alcohol-fuelled gatherings attended by Johnson and his staff in 2020 and 2021 while people in the United Kingdom were barred from socialising under coronavirus restrictions imposed by Johnson’s Conservative government.

Gray said there had been “failures of leadership and judgment in No 10”, a reference to the prime minister’s Downing Street office.

“Those in the most junior positions attended gatherings at which their seniors were present, or indeed organised,” she said.

“Many will be dismayed that behaviour of this kind took place on this scale at the heart of government,” Gray’s report said. “The public have a right to expect the very highest standards of behaviour in such places and clearly what happened fell well short of this.”

Gray did not specifically lay the blame at Johnson’s door but gave details and included photographs from more than a dozen Downing Street gatherings, some of which he attended.

Boris Johnson raising a glass
New photographs of Johnson drinking at a leaving party at his Downing Street residence reignited opposition accusations that he breached his own COVID-19 lockdown rules [ITV/UK pool via Reuters]

Johnson addressed Parliament on the report’s findings later on Wednesday.

“I take full responsibility for everything that took place on my watch,” he told MPs in response, noting the report demanded political and official leaders “take ultimate responsibility and of course I do”.

However, Johnson has shown no sign of heeding calls from critics to resign over the issue.

Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said that the report would stand as a monument to the “hubris and arrogance” of Johnson’s government.

“When the dust settles and the anger subsides, this report will stand as a monument to the hubris and the arrogance of a government that believed it was one rule for them and another rule for everyone else,” Starmer told parliament.

‘Failures of leadership’

A partial version of Gray’s report was published in January after police asked her to leave out details to avoid prejudicing their inquiries.

The interim report criticised the “failures of leadership and judgment” that allowed the parties to take place, and it described a Downing Street operation marked by excessive drinking and dysfunctional dynamics.

Claims that Johnson and his staff enjoyed illegal office parties while millions in the country were prevented from seeing friends and family in 2020 and 2021 first surfaced late last year.

In his statement to Parliament, Johnson will have to explain why he previously told politicians that no parties were held in Downing Street and no rules were broken.

Critics, some of them inside Johnson’s Conservative Party, say the prime minister lied to Parliament. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament are expected to resign.

Johnson has clung on to power so far, partly because Russia’s invasion of Ukraine diverted public and political attention.

Some Conservatives who considered seeking a no-confidence vote in their leader decided it would be rash to push Johnson out in the middle of the war, which is destabilising Europe and fuelling a cost-of-living crisis.

Anti government campaigner Steve Bray protests against 'partygate' outside Parliament in London, Britain
An anti-government campaigner protests against ‘Partygate’ outside Parliament in London [File: Andy Rain/EPA]

The prime minister got a further reprieve when the Metropolitan Police told him last week that he would not be getting any more fines even though he attended several events under investigation.

But Gray’s conclusions could revive calls from Conservative MPs for a no-confidence vote in the leader who won them a big parliamentary majority just over two years ago.

Under party rules, such a vote is triggered if 15 percent of party politicians – currently 54 people – write letters calling for one.

If Johnson lost such a vote, he would be replaced as Conservative leader and prime minister. It is unclear how many letters have been submitted so far.

Environment secretary George Eustice defended the prime minister on Wednesday but acknowledged that the “boundary between what was acceptable and what wasn’t got blurred, and that was a mistake”.

“The prime minister himself has accepted that and recognises there were of course failings and therefore there’s got to be some changes to the way the place is run,” Eustice told the Times Radio broadcaster.

Source: News Agencies