UK probe into ‘partygate’ blames Johnson and top officials for rule-breaking culture
Report points to ‘failures of leadership and judgment’ at 10 Downing Street, providing detailed information on lockdown gatherings; critics say scandal necessitates his resignation
LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other senior officials bear responsibility for a culture of rule-breaking that resulted in several parties that breached the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown rules, a report into the events said Wednesday.
Revelations that Johnson and his staff repeatedly flouted the rules they imposed on others have elicited outrage in Britain and led to calls from opponents for the prime minister to resign. But most lawmakers in his party have so far stood by him, and it’s not yet clear if the much-anticipated report will change that.
Johnson plans to address Parliament later Wednesday on the findings, and he will have to explain why he told lawmakers previously that no parties were held at his Downing Street office and no rules were broken.
In her report into the “partygate” scandal, senior civil servant Sue Gray 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 gatherings attended by Johnson and his staff in 2020 and 2021 while people in the UK were barred from socializing, or even from visiting sick and dying relatives, because of coronavirus restrictions.
Gray said there had been “failures of leadership and judgment in No. 10,” a reference to the address of the prime minister’s office.
“Those in the most junior positions attended gatherings at which their seniors were present, or indeed organized,” she said.
A separate police investigation resulted in 83 people getting hit with fines, including Johnson — making him the first British prime minister ever found to have broken the law while in office.
Johnson has previously apologized but insisted he didn’t knowingly break the rules. The British media and opposition politicians have found that hard to square with staff member’s accounts of “bring your own booze” parties and regular “wine time Fridays” in the prime minister’s 10 Downing St. office at the height of the pandemic.
Much of Gray’s 37-page report is devoted to a detailed account of the events, including a May 2020 party in the Downing Street garden to which “the Prime Minister brought cheese and wine from his flat” and a party the following month at which “one individual was sick” and “there was a minor altercation between two other individuals.”
At another party, revelers in the garden broke a swing belonging to Johnson’s toddler son Wilf and partied until 4 a.m.
“Many will be dismayed that behavior of this kind took place on this scale at the heart of government,” Gray wrote. “The public have a right to expect the very highest standards of behavior in such places and clearly what happened fell well short of this.”
Critics, some of them inside Johnson’s Conservative Party, have said the prime minister has lied to Parliament about the events. 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 destabilizing Europe and fueling a cost-of-living crisis.
The prime minister got a further reprieve when the Metropolitan Police told him last week that he wouldn’t be getting any more fines even though he attended several events under investigation.
But Gray’s conclusions could revive calls from Conservative lawmakers 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% of party lawmakers — 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’s 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 recognizes there were of course failings and therefore there’s got to be some changes to the way the place is run,” Eustice told Times Radio.