Boris Johnson apologises as Sue Gray ‘partygate’ report finds ‘serious failure’

A videograb of British PM Boris Johnson making a statement to MPs following the release of the Sue Gray report, in the House of Commons in London, Britain. Photograph via AFP via Getty Images


Sue Gray’s redacted report on the “partygate” allegations of lockdown-busting gatherings in Number 10 Downing Street and Whitehall has been published.

Civil servant Sue Gray found that “at least some of the gatherings” she investigated 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”.

Although she did not criticise the British prime minister directly, Ms Gray criticised the culture in Boris Johnson’s Downing Street that allowed social gatherings to take place during lockdown, which were “difficult to justify”.

In the limited version of her report published on Monday, Ms Gray said the Downing Street garden was “used for gatherings without clear authorisation or oversight” and “this was not appropriate”.

Ms Gray listed 16 gatherings that she had examined for evidence of rule-breaking, of which 12 are being investigated by police, including a gathering in a Downing Street flat and an event to mark Boris Johnson’s birthday in June 2020.

While Ms Gray makes some broad findings about “failures of leadership and judgement” in parts of Number 10 and the cabinet office, her report makes clear that the police investigation prevented more substantial findings being presented.

“As a result of the Metropolitan Police’s investigations, and so as not to prejudice the police investigative process, they have told me that it would only be appropriate to make minimal reference to the gatherings on the dates they are investigating.

“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.”

Ms Gray’s findings were published online as Mr Johnson prepared to face MPs at 3.30pm as he fights to save his premiership.

In a carefully worded statement earlier on Monday, the cabinet office said Ms Gray had provided an “update” on her investigation to the prime minister, suggesting this did not contain the full findings she was preparing before the Metropolitan Police intervened.

The version of Ms Gray’s report published online said that “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”.

The civil service chief said she had interviewed more than 70 people and examined relevant email information, WhatsApp messages, photographs and exit logs. She said some staff had “wanted to raise concerns about behaviours they witnessed at work but at times felt unable to do so”.

Downing Street has so far refused to commit to publishing a fuller version of Ms Gray’s findings once the police investigation has concluded.

It had appeared likely that many of the most serious allegations would not be considered in the version of the report that was released, because of the request by the Metropolitan Police, which launched a parallel investigation last week.

Johnson response

Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday after the publication of the report, Mr Johnson apologised amid the findings.

“Firstly, I want to say sorry – and I’m sorry for the things we simply didn’t get right and also sorry for the way this matter has been handled.

“It’s no use saying this or that was within the rules and it’s no use saying people were working hard. This pandemic was hard for everyone.”

He told MPs he will overhaul the operation in Downing Street and the cabinet office to address the concerns raised in Ms Gray’s report, adding: “I get it and I will fix it.”

Responding, British Labour leader Keir Starmer said the British people believe Mr Johnson should “do the decent thing and resign” but he is “a man without shame”.

Mr Johnson’s House of Commons statement came about an hour after the report was published on the gov.uk website and issued to MPs.

On the prospect of the release of a fuller report at a later stage, Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: “At this stage, we will need to consider what might be appropriate and we are discussing with the independent cabinet office team in due course what might be appropriate, but at the moment it is unclear how the ongoing Met police investigation might interact with any further work.”

A former communications director to Boris Johnson said limited publication of the Sue Gray inquiry is “bad for democracy” but “good for the PM”.

Will Walden, who advised him during his time as London mayor, told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One programme: “It’s a mess. It’s probably bad for democracy but inadvertently good for the PM.

“He’s used up quite a lot of lives over this but I think it’s landed pretty well for him.”

At about 11.30am, the cabinet office said that Ms Gray, a senior civil servant, had sent her report to Mr Johnson, saying in a statement: “We can confirm that Sue Gray has provided an update on her investigations to the prime minister.”

The wording of “update” rather than “report” suggests the document Mr Johnson has received is some way from the full findings gathered by Ms Gray.

While the report had been seen as potentially crucial as to whether Mr Johnson remains in office, with a number of his MPs poised to move against the prime minister if it appears he has lied or misled parliament, the report as sent is set to miss out many significant facts.

Denial

When allegations of parties first emerged, Mr Johnson told parliament he had obeyed all lockdown rules, and that he knew nothing of any parties at Number 10, even though subsequent evidence showed he had personally attended what appeared to be social events. A prime minister misleading parliament is regarded as a resignation issue.

Speaking to reporters on a visit to Essex on Monday, Mr Johnson insisted he had been truthful, saying: “I stick absolutely to what I’ve said in the past.”

Asked about warnings that the inquiry would be a whitewash because of the changes, he said: “You are going to have to wait and see both what Sue says and, of course, what the Met says.”

Many Conservative MPs have been waiting to see if the findings include evidence of rule-breaking or misleading statements by the prime minister. If 54 Tory MPs submit letters to Graham Brady, the chair of the influential 1922 Committee, Mr Johnson will face a vote of no confidence.

However, given much of the report is missing due to the police investigation, many might find it hard to reach a conclusion, giving the prime minister some respite.

The investigation, launched in December, was led originally by Simon Case, the cabinet secretary. He stepped down from the inquiry soon after the process began after reports that his office also held a social event.

Gray, who was director general of propriety and ethics in the cabinet office from 2012 to 2018, took over the inquiry in mid-December. – Guardian/PA