Johnson faces a battle to save his premiership after the report released Wednesday by senior official Sue Gray criticized a culture of rule-breaking events and revealed new photos of him at two separate gatherings.
Gray wrote that “top leadership at the center” of Johnson’s administration “must have accountability” for a culture that allowed the parties to take place.
She added there was “no excuse for some of the behaviors” she studied, including “excessive drinking”. Transcripts of email exchanges were also shown, including some in which employees openly discussed hiding their parties from the media.
The report examined 16 events that took place while the UK was living under tight Covid-19 restrictions.
A picture of Johnson raising a can of beer at a birthday celebration held in his honor was included in the dossier, alongside other pictures of the Prime Minister at another event.
Shortly after the report’s release, Johnson said in Parliament he was “humbled” and had “learned my lesson,” adding, “I take full responsibility for everything that happened under my watch.”
But he also reiterated previous claims that the parties only escalated after he left, insisting he was “surprised and disappointed” that multiple drunken events took place.
And he suggested that the cramped quarters of government buildings and the “extremely long hours” of his staff responding to the Covid-19 crisis might explain why several parties and social events took place.
“I’ve attended these gatherings briefly to thank them for their service, which I believe is one of the essential responsibilities of leadership,” Johnson said.
He used multiple interventions from lawmakers calling for his resignation, but repeatedly rejected those calls.
Two-thirds of Brits (65%) said Johnson should resign over the Gray report findings, according to a Savanta ComRes Quick Poll released on Wednesday.
That number is four points higher than when Johnson was fined by the Metropolitan Police on April 12 (61%), according to Savanta ComRes, but lower than when Gray’s first interim results were released in January (69%). .
The report doesn’t fully end the “Partygate” saga that has brought Johnson’s job to a brink. Its findings raise serious questions about whether Johnson misled lawmakers by previously denying that parties took place and faces a separate parliamentary committee inquiry into the issue.
On Wednesday it was vandalized in Parliament by opposition Labor leader Keir Starmer, who said the inquiry “provides the definitive proof of how the building’s occupants treated the victims of the British people with the utmost contempt”.
“This report will be a memorial to the hubris and arrogance of a government that believed it was one rule for them and another rule for everyone else,” Starmer said.
“You can’t be a legislator and a lawbreaker. It’s time to pack your bags.”
Staff were urged to bring alcohol and avoid the media
Gray noted that in May 2020, Johnson attended a garden party for about half an hour that was attended by about “30-40 people.”
An invitation to the event informed staff about “socially distanced drinks” in Downing Street’s garden, open to “anyone who is in your office”.
“Could you also suggest they bring their own alcohol! I’m not sure we’ll have enough,” the email read from Martin Reynolds, Johnson’s chief private secretary, according to the report. The next day, Reynolds noted that the media hadn’t covered the party, writing to a colleague, “We seem to have gotten away with it.”
In an email exchange, staff were told to avoid “walking around with bottles of wine” while reporters were in the building and to keep the tone down at gatherings when a Covid-19 minister’s press conference was taking place.
Ahead of a virtual quiz in December 2020, in which Johnson partially took part, an officer sent a message to staff about “intoxication” and advising them to exit Downing Street through the back exit to avoid press photographers.
Staff left this event well after midnight, with the last person leaving at 4:20 am
Some employees felt uncomfortable with the behavior at Number 10 but were afraid to speak up about the issue, Gray noted. And on other occasions, supervisory staff were mistreated by those involved in the events.
“I have been made aware of several examples of disrespect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff. This was unacceptable,” she wrote.
And Gray hinted that Downing Street officials were unwilling to provide details on the parties, writing: “It is also unfortunately the case that details of some events were only revealed to me and my team through media coverage. That is disappointing. “
Relatives of Covid dead react
Johnson’s tenure was derailed by the months-long scandal the British media dubbed “Partygate”. He initially denied any events had taken place, but 16 were subsequently investigated by Gray, 12 were investigated by police and Johnson himself was fined by officers for taking part in one.
Some of his own Conservative party MPs have joined opposition calls for him to step down in recent weeks and he will now have to convince his colleagues to stand by him despite the many allegations and Gray’s damning investigation.
But political ramifications aside, the most staggering element of Gray’s account is the stark contrast between events at Downing Street and events across the country.
The UK has endured three severe lockdowns and various other regional measures during the pandemic, which have claimed more lives in the UK than any other country in Europe.
During this time, laws limited attendance and physical contact at funerals and kept people away from dying relatives in hospitals and nursing homes.
“There we have it,” the Covid-19 bereaved for Justice UK said in a statement on Wednesday.
“While the country had one of the highest death rates in the world from Covid-19, they partied over cheese and wine and got drunk over a karaoke machine.
“The messages in the report show they knew how disrespectful they were to the families who were failing them, but that didn’t bother them,” they added.
The group called on Johnson to leave office, saying he “treated us like they treated their cleaners and security guards who challenged their breaking the law at the time: like we were an inconvenience, like we were dirt.”