Senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report into Partygate says Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other senior officials “bear responsibility” for a culture of rule-breaking at a series of parties that broke covid 19 lockdown rules through 2020 and 2021.
Her 60-page final report released on May 25 exposed damaging details and photographs of 16 gatherings – some of which went on until four in the morning – which she says “should not have been allowed to happen”, breaking covid laws which prevented millions of Britons from seeing their families and friends or visiting dying relatives.
She amplified her conclusion about “failures of leadership and judgment in No. 10” in her heavily edited interim report in January, writing: “The events that I investigated were attended by leaders in government… 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.”
One hour after the release of the Gray report, Johnson told the House of Commons he took “full responsibility” for the rule-breaking, he was sorry, “humbled”, and had “learned a lesson”.
He also claimed he had been at events only briefly, again insisted he did not knowingly break any rules, said he had been honest in the Commons about his denials of law-breaking as “it was what I believed to be true”, and it was now time to “move on” and focus on the government’s priorities.
By way of what he called “context” about the parties he told MPs: “Over a period of 600 days, gatherings on a total of 8 days have been found in breach of regulations”, adding that part of his leadership duty to staff was to “recognise them and thank” them when they were leaving government.
Opposition Leader Keir Starmer said the Gray report was a “catalogue of criminality” and Johnson’s government had “treated the sacrifices of the British people with utter contempt.”
Starmer himself is being investigated by the police in Durham for a possible breach of covid rules at a single Labour Party event during a byelection there in April 2021.
He has said he would resign if he is fined.
The Gray report had been long awaited – six months – as Johnson and his supporters had urged Tory MPs to delay judgment on his leadership until its release.
Even its imminent release prompted further revelations and questions.
The media – which originally broke the Partygate story in December 2021 and continued to reveal details over the following months – reported a meeting between the prime minister and Sue Gray in the weeks before the report’s release.
The prime minister’s office finally admitted it had requested the meeting – despite previous multiple denials and a claim that she had instigated the meeting, not the prime minister.
And at that meeting The Times reported that Johnson had questioned whether the report should go ahead and be released. The prime minister’s official spokesperson denied that Johnson had asked Ms. Gray to drop it or not proceed – but was unable to say clearly whether Johnson had speculated aloud about whether publication should proceed, saying: “I don’t recognise that characterisation.”
And two tv programs added further details about the prime minister and rule-breaking parties.
On May 23 ITV News revealed four photos of Johnson raising a glass at a gathering during lockdown – a leaving party on 13 November 2020 for his communications director Lee Cain.
And a BBC Panorama report on Partygate quoted one participant saying 30 people were crowded into the room in Downing Street.
Those revelations raised new questions about the police investigation which resulted in only a single fine for Johnson for attending one of his own birthday celebrations on 19 June 2020 in the cabinet room.
The police examined 510 photos and 345 documents and issued a total of 126 fines to a total of 83 people for breaking covid laws, announcing the end of their investigation on May 19.
The impact of all the revelations and Sue Gray’s report on Boris Johnson’s future remained in doubt.
His party faced byelections in Wakefield, and Tiverton and Honiton, on June 23, both seats previously held by the Conservatives.
And Johnson himself faced an inquiry by the Parliamentary committee on privileges into whether he “misled the House” over his previous claims there were no parties, he didn’t know about any parties, and then that all rules were followed.
Sue Gray report – a culture of rule breaking
The Sue Gray report
A shameless apology – the Mirror
The Partygate report – ITV
Boris Johnson statement in House of Commons
Keir Starmer in Commons
Number 10 admits asking for meeting with Sue Gray
The Times – Prime Minister suggests no need for Gray report
Number 10 denies PM asked Sue Gray to ditch report
ITV reveals photos of Boris Johnson at party
BBC Panorama on Partygate
The Downing Street party culture
BBC Radio 4 Media Show on the role of media in Partygate
Covid, the media and parties
Legal action over police investigation
London mayor calls for police explanation on fines
Police end investigation
YouGov snap poll on Boris Johnson – May 25