UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's remaining in office hangs in the balance following the release Monday of a report by senior civil servant Sue Gray which has supplied police investigators with over 300 photographs of the party or parties held at 10 Downing Street while COVID-19 lockdown mandates were in force.
The 12-page document makes it clear lockdown parties “should not have been allowed to take place,” while others “should not have been allowed to develop as they did.”
Gray also spoke of “failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times” with some of their behavior “difficult to justify.” The report also highlighted the excessive consumption of alcohol, which was “not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time.” Gray also noted some staff had wanted to raise concerns about what they had witnessed but felt unable to do so.
“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,” the report added.
Gray also explained the Metropolitan Police had asked her to make “minimal reference” to parties also under investigation, which prompted a reaction from MPs who said the police wanted to “whitewash” the report.
The latest disclosure in recent weeks was that an event was held during lockdown to celebrate Johnson’s birthday on June 19, 2020. The Prime Minister has so far declined to resign despite public anger and told the House of Commons he was sorry for the way the matter had been handled and accepted it was time to review codes of conduct. “Firstly, I want to say sorry,” Johnson said Monday afternoon. “I’m sorry for the things we simply didn’t get right and also sorry for the way that this matter has been handled.” Johnson also admitted an apology was not enough and announced he would create an Office of the Prime Minister, with a permanent secretary.
Amid jeers from opposition lawmakers, Labour leader Keir Starmer said that “by routinely breaking the rules he set, the prime minister took us all for fools” and ”treats what should be a mark of shame as a welcome shield,” he added. Starmer also pointed out Gray’s report showed 12 cases worthy of a criminal investigation. Starmer also said Johnson was “a man without shame” and repeated his call for the prime minister to resign.
Conservative lawmakers had said they would “await the findings” of Gray’s report before casting judgment on their leader. Now Johnson could face a vote of no confidence, although some MPs would reportedly wait and see how the Conservative Party fares in May local elections, while opinion polls consistently show Johnson's approval is at its lowest.
The Prime Minister already admitted earlier this year he had attended one of the parties in May 2020, but only for 25 minutes to “thank groups of staff” for their hard work, for which he offered his “heartfelt apologies.” The Boris Johnson administration now refers to these parties as a “serious failure” of the standards of public office.
Gray said that 12 of the 16 parties she looked into are being investigated by London’s Metropolitan Police and that she would not be able to hand over her full report until the inquiry was complete. Investigators now need to go over more than 500 pages of documents as well as the some 300 photographs. If the police determines rules were breached, those involved could face hefty fines, it was reported.
Former Prime Minister Theresa May, Johnson’s Conservative predecessor, said that either he “had not read the rules or didn’t understand” them or he “didn’t think the rules applied” to him. “Which was it?” she asked.
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