1 Feb 2022

Downing Street Covid-19 lockdown parties: Report finds failures of leadership

6:10 am on 1 February 2022

Some events at UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's office and residence during a Covid-19 lockdown should not have taken place, an inquiry said, describing serious failures of leadership and judgement at the heart of the British government.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to give statement to MPs in the House of Commons regarding the findings from Sue Gray's inquiry into parties at Downing Street during a Covid-19 lockdown.

Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to give statement to MPs in the House of Commons regarding the findings of Sue Gray's inquiry into parties at Downing Street during a Covid-19 lockdown. Photo: AFP / WIktor Szymanowicz / NurPhoto

In her inquiry into lockdown-breaking gatherings at Downing Street under Johnson, senior civil servant Sue Gray condemned some of the behaviour in government as being "difficult to justify".

But she also said she could not offer a "meaningful report" - an apparent acknowledgement of a police investigation into other gatherings which led to only an abridged version of the report being released. These include one in the prime minister's flat above his Number 10 office.

Johnson, who is facing the gravest threat to his premiership, appeared in parliament following the report's publication.

"I want to say sorry," Johnson said parliament. "I get it and I will fix it."

Gray's report looked into what has become weeks of a steady drip of stories about events in Downing Street during the Covid-19 lockdown, with reports of aides stuffing a suitcase full of supermarket alcohol and dancing until the early hours.

However, parts of the report were not published due to the ongoing police investigation, which could take months. Johnson has so far weathered calls from opponents and some in his own party to resign by saying people needed to wait for the report.

"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," Gray wrote.

She also said the "excessive consumption of alcohol" at Downing Street was not appropriate.

"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," it said.

Gray was asked to investigate more than a dozen gatherings - including a "bring your own booze" party in the Downing Street garden - at a time when millions were kept apart from friends and relatives for months because of the restrictions.

Since the police investigation was opened last week, Gray said in her so-called update that she could only now refer to four events, rather than the 16 she initially considered to make sure she did not prejudice the probe.

"Unfortunately, this necessarily means that I am extremely limited in what I can say about those events and it is not possible at present to provide a meaningful report setting out and analysing the extensive factual information I have been able to gather," she wrote.

Renewed calls for Johnson to resign

One of the events which she was forced to leave out was a gathering on Nov. 13 in Johnson's Downing Street apartment above government offices, and one of the most damaging allegations of the "bring your own booze" party on 20 May, 2020.

"As I have noted, a number of these gatherings should not have been allowed to take place or to develop in the way that they did," she said in the report.

Opponents were critical of the limited nature of the report and renewed their calls for Johnson to quit.

"Everyone knows Boris Johnson broke the rules and lied to the country," said Ed Davey, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat party.

Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said she found the report "sickening".

"It is the most fundamental failure of any prime minister and I'm absolutely shocked that Boris Johnson can even show his face in Parliament today," she told Sky News. "He should be resigning because he has lost the confidence of the British people."

The prime minister's spokesman has said that Johnson does not believe he has broken the law.

But the matter is the latest in a series of scandals to tarnish Johnson, who has come under fire over the funding of a pricey flat refurbishment, allegedly prioritising the evacuation of animals from Afghanistan and the awarding of Covid contracts.

But the delay in delivering the report has also given Johnson and his supporters time to try to persuade colleagues not to trigger a confidence vote in him.

Johnson has apologised for errors that were made and said he attended one garden party thinking it was a work event, but has rejected calls to quit.

Ian Blackford, leader of the Scottish National Party in Westminster, was ordered to leave the House of Commons debating chamber for accusing Johnson of lying to parliament about lockdown parties in Downing Street.

Parliamentary etiquette forbids lawmakers from calling each other liars in the chamber.

- Reuters

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