Downing St scandal

Gray blasts ‘serious failures’ as PM faces MPs

Boris Johnson at an adviser’s leaving party on 13 November 2020

Boris Johnson offer a further apology today after civil servant Sue Gray’s damning report found serious failures at the heart of government as parties took place in Downing Street at the height of lockdown.

Mr Johnson told MPs that he took “full responsibility” for the misbehaviour, but said he wanted “to set on the record now that when I said I came to this House in all sincerity that the rules and guidance had been followed at all times, it was what I believed to be true.”

Defending the thousands of “hard-working” civil servants who got the country through the pandemic, he said: “I hope that today as well as learning the lessons from Sue Gray’s report… we will be able to move on and focus on the priorities of the British people.”

Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer responded to the Prime Minister’s statement, by saying the report “lays bare the rot” of the government and shows how people in No 10 “treated the sacrifice of the British people with utter contempt”.

He described the report as “a monument to the hubris and arrogance” of a government that believed there was one rule for them and another rule for everyone else.

Ms Gray’s 37-page report, which has been posted online here, includes more photos of partying while the rest of the country observed the Prime Minister’s strict rules on meeting other people.

Boris Johnson listening to Sir Kier Starmer’s response to his statement

She reveals that in one email, Martin Reynolds, former principal private secretary for Mr Johnson, states how he was happy Downing Street had “got away with” having an illegal drinks event and that the media had not found out.

In her report Ms Gray says that “against the backdrop of the pandemic, when the Government was asking citizens to accept far-reaching restrictions on their lives, some of the behaviour surrounding these gatherings is difficult to justify.”

She adds: “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.

Mr Johnson and the Chancellor at the 19 June 2020 event

“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.”

She concludes: “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.”

Ms Gray admitted that civil service convention meant that it has “not been easy” to name individuals, “but given the unique circumstances of this investigation I have decided that naming should be only for the most high-ranking individuals who knew about and/or attended an event, as well as those senior civil servants or special advisers who were significant to the organisation of such gatherings, given their wider responsibility for the leadership and culture of the Departments.”

Packed rooms and lots of booze

Three Downing Street “insiders” told a Panorama documentary of packed rooms in which people drank heavily and engaged in close contact long into the night.

Staff felt the Prime Minister condoned the parties by attending himself and one expressed disbelief when he denied in the Commons that they took place.

One told the programme: “He may have just been popping through on the way to his flat because that’s what would happen. You know, he wasn’t there saying: ‘This shouldn’t be happening.’ He wasn’t saying: ‘Can everyone break up and go home? Can everyone socially distance? Can everyone put masks on?’ No, he wasn’t telling anybody that. He was grabbing a glass for himself.”

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Mr Johnson received one fine from the Metropolitan Police after it investigated 12 events in Downing Street and Whitehall. ITV News this week revealed a photo of the Prime Minster attending an event – during a strict lockdown on 13 November 2020 – for which the he was not fined.

One person present at the event – a leaving party for Lee Cain, the director of communications – told the documentary: “There were about 30 people, if not more, in a room. Everyone was stood shoulder to shoulder, some people on others’ laps . . . one or two people.”

A party on 16 April last year, the night before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, was said by one witness to be a “lively event . . . a general party with people dancing around”. A source said the event was so loud that security guards told those present to leave the building and go outside.

“So everyone grabbed all the drinks, the food, everything, and went into the garden,” the source said. “We all sat around the tables drinking. People stayed the night there.”

The insiders said the events were “every week”, with invitations for press office drinks listed in the diary as “WTF” or “Wine-Time Friday”.

ITV revealed a photo of Boris Johnson at a party in November 2020

Following Prime Minister’s questions, Mr Johnson is expected make a statement to the Commons. He will speak privately to Tory MPs and hold a televised press conference.

However, calming outrage among his own backbenchers will not be easy.

Tom Tugendhat, the only senior Tory to confirm a leadership bid, said he was “talking to colleagues” about the PM’s future. 

Former Tory chief whip Mark Harper plunged the knife in, saying it was “not just the events, it’s the fact he’s not been straightforward about it.”

Tory veteran Sir Roger Gale added: “He misled us from the despatch box. And, honourably, there is one answer.”

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