LONDON – parties held by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his staff during the Covid-19 lockdown is a “serious failure” by the standards of public offices and “difficult to justify”, according to a much-anticipated government report on Monday.
Johnson who was fight to save his leadership from the scandal, apologized this month for attending a ‘bring your own booze’ party in the garden of his home and office at 10 Downing Street.
Senior official Sue Gray later gave Johnson an “update” of her findings published online. She held more than a dozen social gatherings and sharply rebuked the country’s leadership.
“At least some of the assemblies in question represent a serious failure to live up not only to the high standards expected of those who work at the heart of government, but also to the standards then expected of the British public at large,” it said in the interim report.
“Some of these gatherings should not have taken place or developed the way they did,” she added. It also called for a crackdown on Downing Street’s “excessive drinking, which is at no time appropriate in a professional workplace”.
Gray said 12 of the 16 parties she investigated were being investigated by London’s Metropolitan Police and that she would not be able to provide her full report until the inquiry was complete.
The Met, which has been criticized for not investigating the parties earlier, said Monday its bundle of evidence in the case totals more than 500 pages and 300 photos. It said in a statement it could impose fines on those involved if it found rules were broken.
Later on Monday, Johnson apologized to a rowdy House of Commons after trying to deny the parties had taken place in December, then suggested the staff were to blame. But he still urged his critics to wait for the full conclusions from Gray and the police.
“First of all, I would like to apologize. Sorry for the things we didn’t get right,” he said.
He said he would make “changes” to the way Downing Street and the Cabinet Office are run in light of the report.
“I understand and I will fix it,” he told lawmakers.
Johnson repeatedly dodged questions from lawmakers asking if his administration would release the report in full when it arrived.
Opposition Labor leader Keir Starmer responded by saying that Johnson was “a man without shame” and reiterated his call for the prime minister to resign.
Parliament is usually a rowdy place, but Johnson’s Conservative lawmakers listened in silence to their main opponent’s speech.
Starmer spoke of members of the public who “felt guilty about following the law [and] they didn’t see their parents last” during lockdown, while their own government did not. He said their sacrifice would be “stained forever” by Johnson’s government and that they “thought we were all fools.”
It wasn’t just on the opposition benches that Johnson heard resentment. The rolling “Partygate” revelations have sparked rebellion among his own lawmakers, leading to speculation he may face a no-confidence vote.
Former Prime Minister Theresa May, Johnson’s Conservative predecessor, said he either “didn’t read or didn’t understand the rules” or “didn’t think the rules applied to him”.
“What was it?” she asked.
Johnson’s grip on power has been weakened by allegations that he and his staff flouted the restrictions they imposed on the country in 2020 and 2021 to curb the spread of the coronavirus by holding office parties, birthday parties and “wine time on Fridays”.
The claims have sparked public anger, prompted some Conservative lawmakers to call for Johnson’s resignation and sparked fierce power struggles within the ruling party.
However, the release of the full report, expected last week, was thrown into doubt as police launched their inquiries into the most serious allegations of breaches of the coronavirus rules.
The force said it requested that Gray’s report make only “minimal” reference to the events detectives are investigating “to avoid any interference with our investigation.”
Johnson’s opponents accused the government of watering down a report that could trigger an attempted overthrow by his own party. Some Conservative lawmakers have said they would push a vote of no confidence if Gray found Johnson to be at fault or that he lied to Parliament about his actions.
Johnson’s office did not respond to a request for comment.