U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has apologized and vowed to “fix” the government after a damning report criticized heavy drinking culture and partying during strict Covid-19 lockdown, sparking calls for his resignation and a Metropolitan police investigation into possible rule-breaking.
Against the backdrop of the pandemic and at a time the government was asking people to adopt strict restrictions on their lives, some of the gatherings at Number 10 Downing Street and within government “represent a serious failure to observe” the high standards expected of government and the entire British population, wrote civil servant Sue Gray.
“Failures of leadership” across different parts of government allowed the parties to take place, Gray said, some of which she said should not have taken place at all and others which should not have “been allowed to develop as they did.”
Gray also said the “excessive consumption of alcohol” in Downing Street is “not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time,” adding that steps must be taken to ensure all government departments have a “clear and robust” policy covering alcohol in the workplace.
Gray said she is “extremely limited” in what she can say about some of the events or provide a “meaningful” account of what happened due to omissions requests made by the Metropolitan police.
Twelve of the 16 gatherings Gray looked at are now being investigated by the police, the report said.
Gray’s report’s conclusion reads: “The gatherings within the scope of this investigation are spread over a 20-month period – a period that has been unique in recent times in terms of the complexity and breadth of the demands on public servants and indeed the general public.
The whole of the country rose to the challenge. Ministers, special advisers, and the civil service, of which I am proud to be a part, were a key and dedicated part of that national effort.
However, 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. There is significant learning to be drawn from these events which must be addressed immediately across the government. This does not need to wait for the police investigations to be concluded.”
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
Boris Johnson’s role as prime minister. Though certainly no stranger to scandal, “partygate” could be the scandal to take Johnson down. He has faced anger from all sides of the political spectrum—including senior members of his own party—and the general public but avoided a vote of no confidence.
Many Conservatives said they would wait until the publication of Gray’s report before deciding. It is unclear whether the pared-down version of Gray’s report will be sufficient or if they will wait until the police investigation concludes.
In a statement to Parliament, Johnson said he was sorry for the way the issue was handled and the things they “didn’t get right,” accepting Gray’s report “in full.” The prime minister said he is making changes to how the government is run “now” and “fix it.”
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Johnson and the Metropolitan police. Johnson is expected to speak to all Conservative MPs later on Monday, who could choose to call a vote of confidence in his leadership.
The decision of the Metropolitan police to investigate the parties means a number of gatherings are now beyond Gray’s remit and involve potential breaches of the law. Police have not given a timescale for the inquiry.