Boris Johnson Apologizes For U.K. Government Parties During Lockdown After Report Release
LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday he was “sorry for the things we simply didn’t get right” after a report was released detailing multiple government staff parties during coronavirus lockdown.
Johnson faced shouts of “resign” in the House of Commons as he made a statement: “We asked people across this country to make the most extraordinary sacrifices – not to meet loved ones, not to visit relatives before they died, and I understand the anger that people feel.
“But it isn’t enough to say sorry. This is a moment when we must look at ourselves in the mirror and we must learn.”
The report blamed “failures of leadership and judgment” in Downing Street and the Cabinet Office for the “partygate” scandal that has rocked Johnson’s government.
Sue Gray, the senior civil servant who conducted the investigation, said it was “difficult to justify” the controversial gatherings as she criticized the “excessive consumption of alcohol” by government staff.
Police are investigating at least three parties Johnson allegedly attended during lockdown and a separate bash held in his Downing Street residence, HuffPost UK reported.
On May 20, 2020, an infamous “bring your own booze” party was held. The prime minister has already admitted to attending it, saying he believed it was a “work event.”
The gatherings also include a birthday party on June 19, 2020, thrown by his wife Carrie as a surprise get-together — complete with cake and up to 30 guests.
Johnson is also reported to have attending a leaving party marking the departure of his former special adviser Lee Cain.
Separately, the Met are investigating a party allegedly held in the Downing Street residence shared by Johnson and his wife Carrie to celebrate Dominic Cummings’ resignation.
It has been claimed that the victory party was held after the senior aide was pictured leaving with a box of his belongings on Nov. 13, 2020.
Abba’s the “Winner Takes It All” was allegedly played at the event, according to the Mail on Sunday.
A spokesman for the prime minister’s wife previously said it was “totally untrue” to suggest she held a party in the Downing Street flat on that date.
The bombshell findings are contained in Gray’s 12-page report into alleged lockdown parties in Downing Street and Whitehall, which was finally published at 2:20 p.m. GMT on Monday.
The report said: “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.
“At times it seems there was too little thought given to what was happening
across the country in considering the appropriateness of some of these
gatherings, the risks they presented to public health and how they might appear
to the public.
“There were failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times. Some of the events should not have been allowed to take place. Other events should not have been allowed to develop as they did.
“The excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional
workplace at any time. Steps must be taken to ensure that every Government
Department has a clear and robust policy in place covering the consumption of
alcohol in the workplace.”
Gray also rejects the claims that Downing Street and Whitehall staff were entitled to let their hair down because of the pressure they were under.
She said: “Those challenges also applied to key and frontline workers across the country who were working under equally, if not more, demanding conditions, often at risk to their own health.”
Gray took over the inquiry after Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, who was initially tasked with investigating the partygate allegations, was forced to quit when it emerged a gathering was held in his own office before Christmas 2020.
She had been expected to deliver it to the prime minister last week, but the Metropolitan Police’s announcement last Tuesday that it was launching an investigation of their own into some of the alleged parties held up the process.
The Met then said the Gray report should only make “minimal references” to the gatherings they are probing, further delaying the process.
Her eagerly anticipated report was finally handed to Number 10 shortly after 11 a.m. GMT Monday.
In a statement, the Cabinet Office confirmed that Gray — who spoke to Johnson over the weekend — had “provided an update on her investigation” to the prime minister.
Johnson then had around two hours to digest its contents with his closest aides before it was published on the government website.
He will make a statement to MPs in the House of Commons at 3:30 p.m. GMT before addressing MPs from his Conservative Party.
The report reveals that the Met are investigating 12 gatherings in total — including one in the flat above 10 Downing Street on Nov. 13, 2021.
Gray’s report only focuses on the four alleged parties that the police have decided not to investigate.
On gatherings held in the Downing Street garden, Gray says it was appropriate to have meetings there as the open air meant they were more COVID-safe.
However, she is scathing about the culture within Downing Street which allowed some to attend the get-togethers without being invited.
And she reveals that some staff felt unable to raise their concerns about the gatherings with their bosses.
She said: “The garden was also used for gatherings without clear authorisation or oversight.
“This was not appropriate. Any official access to the space, including for meetings, should be by invitation only and in a controlled environment.
“Some staff wanted to raise concerns about behaviours they witnessed at work
but at times felt unable to do so. No member of staff should feel unable to report or challenge poor conduct where they witness it.”
Gray said that because of the Met investigation, she is “extremely limited” in what she can say at this stage on the alleged parties they are investigating.
But she insisted that the police probe should not be used as an excuse not to introduce changes to the workplace culture in Downing Street.
The report said: “There is significant learning to be drawn from these events which must be addressed immediately across Government. This does not need to wait for the police investigations to be concluded.”
Johnson on Monday said a new office of the prime minister will be created with a new permanent secretary to lead No.10 to simplify the chain of command, as well as a review of the code of conduct for special advisers.
This story has been updated with Johnson’s apology and news of the police investigations.