Senior leaders at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street office were to blame for a culture that led to illegal parties being held there during coronavirus lockdowns, a report by a senior civil servant said on Wednesday.
The report by senior official Sue Gray was commissioned by Johnson after revelations of alcohol-fuelled parties at Downing Street when social mixing was all but banned under stringent laws his government had made to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen,” the report said. “The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.”
Gray’s interim findings were published in January, but most details were withheld until the end of a separate police inquiry, which concluded last week with 126 fines handed out.
Both Johnson and finance minister Rishi Sunak were among those fined over a party to celebrate the prime minister’s 56th birthday on June 2020.
Johnson has faced calls from opposition politicians and some in his own party for him to resign after it was revealed both he and officials had broken the rules which meant people could not socialise outside their households or even, in many cases, attend funerals for loved ones.
“Many will be dismayed that behaviour of this kind took place on this scale at the heart of government,” Gray’s report said. “The public have a right to expect the very highest standards of behaviour in such places and clearly what happened fell well short of this.”
Gray did not specifically lay the blame at Johnson’s door but gave details and included photographs from more than a dozen Downing Street gatherings, some of which he attended.
The leader of House of Commons said Johnson would later make a statement to parliament on the report.
Seeking to play it down, environment minister George Eustice earlier said police had investigated “all of these events” in Downing Street.
“They’ve issued a fixed penalty notice to the prime minister in respect of one of those events that he that he attended. He’s paid that penalty,” he told Times Radio.
“He’s apologised … So I’m not sure that anything new will come from this report other than further detail, but of course, we will… look at it.”
For months, evidence of the alcohol-fuelled parties has dripped out into the media, forcing Johnson to apologise, change the team at his office and promise a reset to try to restore his authority.
He initially denied there had been any parties or rule-breaking at Downing Street, and some lawmakers say his position is untenable if he is found to have lied to parliament, a matter under investigation by parliament’s Committee of Privileges.
“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.”
“There were failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No. 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times. Some of the events should not have been allowed to take place. Other events should not have been allowed to develop as they did.”
“The excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time. Steps must be taken to ensure that every Government Department has a clear and robust policy in place covering the consumption of alcohol in the workplace.”
“Many will be dismayed that behaviour 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 behaviour in such places and clearly what happened fell well short of this.”
“The public have a right to expect the very highest standards of behaviour in such places and clearly what happened fell well short of this. It is my firm belief, however, that these events did not reflect the prevailing culture in Government and the Civil Service at the time.”
“There is no excuse for some of the behaviour set out here it is important to acknowledge that those in the most junior positions attended gatherings at which their seniors were present, or indeed organised. I have no doubt that they will have taken the learning from this experience and, while this is not a matter for me, I hope this will be taken into account in considering any disciplinary action.”
June 18, 2020: At a party: “There was excessive alcohol consumption by some individuals. One individual was sick. There was a minor altercation between two other individuals.”
June 19, 2020: At the event where Johnson was fined for attending a birthday in Downing Street, the report said: “The prime minister was not aware of this event in advance and it did not form part of his official diary for the day … He had no advance knowledge about what had been planned.”
Nov. 13 2020: A party following the departure of Johnson’s most senior aide Dominic Cummings and the director of communications Lee Cain was never properly investigated.
Dec. 18 2020: “There was food and alcohol available which had been bought and brought in by staff. Some members of staff drank excessively. The event was crowded and noisy such that some people working elsewhere in the No 10 building that evening heard significant levels of noise coming from what they characterised as a “party” in the Press Office.”
April 16, 2021: “There were over 20 people present in the garden, with a number of bottles of alcohol … A number of individuals gathered near a child’s swing/slide in the garden, damaging it by leaning on and playing with it.”