After becoming the first U.K. Prime Minister to be penalized for breaking the law while in office, Boris Johnson was dealt another blow Wednesday with the publication of a long-awaited report into lockdown-breaking gatherings at the heart of the British government. The damning investigation slammed “failures of leadership and judgment” and featured details of wild all-night parties where staff were throwing up and even getting into fights.
Senior civil servant Sue Gray was asked to investigate the so-called ‘partygate’ scandal after reports of rule-breaking parties in Whitehall emerged last December. A separate police inquiry into the events saw Johnson fined in April, despite his earlier insistence that no parties had taken place.
But Gray’s report reaffirmed that lockdown rules had been broken by 83 people over a series of gatherings, blaming senior leaders for the failings. “Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen,” the report says. “It is also the case that 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.”
A culture of seriously heavy drinking flowing through Downing Street was also uncovered in the civil servant’s probe. At one of the elicit events, Gray notes that “one individual was sick” and “there was a minor altercation between two other individuals.” Security logs in the report also show that staff partied until 4am after the leaving drinks for the director of communications, and instructions were sent out on an internal messaging system imploring drunk staff to leave No 10 by the back exit to avoid being photographed by the press. A cleaner also found that red wine had been spilled on a wall and on office supplies after one of the blowouts. And Johnson’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, boasted in a message that staff had “got away with” breaking lockdown rules.
“I was made aware of multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff,” Gray’s report says. “This was unacceptable.” It continued: “Many will be dismayed that behavior of this kind took place on this scale at the heart of Government. 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.”
Speaking in the House of Commons Wednesday, Johnson said he takes “full responsibility for everything that took place on my watch,” before insisting he was “as surprised and disappointed as anyone else in this House as the revelations have unfolded.” Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called No 10 “one of the great symbols of our democracy,” adding: “When our leaders fall short, this House must act.”
Johnson will face renewed pressure in light of the report after surviving months of one hideous partygate revelation after another. The original release of Gray’s full report was delayed in January after the Metropolitan Police launched its own inquiry, which saw Johnson fined for breaching his own rules. Even Gray’s preliminary 12-page noted “failures of leadership and judgment” in Whitehall.