UK inquiry into Downing Street lockdown parties

Opposition lawmakers have accused Johnson of knowingly misleading Parliament.

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LONDON — A much-anticipated investigation into numerous Covid-19 lockdown parties at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office and home has been released, adding pressure on the embattled Conservative Party leader.

Senior official Sue Gray’s comprehensive report found that many of the gatherings that have taken place at Downing Street and Whitehall during the Covid lockdown over the past two years should not have taken place.

It lays out in embarrassing detail how several events unfolded, including a farewell party on June 18 when indoor gatherings of two or more people were banned in England. On this occasion, the event lasted several hours and there was excessive alcohol consumption at times. “One person was ill” and a “small altercation” ensued between two others, the report said.

In a scathing verdict, Gray said top leadership “must have accountability for this culture.”

“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 that were expected of the British public at large at that time.”

Gray’s report reiterated the findings of her first, redacted report in late January, which severely criticized the government’s leadership.

“Whatever the original intent, what took place at many of these gatherings and how they unfolded was not in line with Covid guidance at the time,” the report said.

“Even allowing for the extraordinary pressure on officials and advisers, the factual findings of this report illustrate some attitudes and behaviors that are inconsistent with these guidelines.”

Gray had launched an investigation after media reports of gatherings and alleged parties at government buildings during the 20-month Covid lockdown.

A full version of the report had been delayed due to a separate police investigation. The Metropolitan Police investigation resulted in 126 fines for 83 people, including Johnson, his partner Carrie Johnson and Treasury Secretary Rishi Sunak.

Sterling fell to session lows against the US dollar shortly after the report was released. The British currency was down 0.4% to $1.2489 during afternoon trade in London.

Johnson is expected to make a statement before the House of Commons later in the day.

Calls for resignation

Gray’s full account comes after even more revelations in recent days about more alcohol-fuelled social events taking place at Downing Street during the Covid lockdown, with Johnson pictured raising a glass in an exit on November 13, 2020.

The images obtained by ITV News have prompted fresh claims from opposition lawmakers that Johnson knowingly misled Parliament when he previously told the House of Commons that no rules had been broken.

Johnson has repeatedly defied calls for his resignation from across the political spectrum, despite ongoing public anger over a long and growing list of alleged lockdown violations.

Asked Wednesday if public opinion might reflect the end of the road for Johnson’s tenure, Ipsos CEO Ben Page said, “I don’t have anything on the numbers right now.”

Speaking to CNBC’s Squawk Box Europe in Davos, Switzerland, Page said Johnson “is unpopular, but the fact that people think he might have lied in a way is priced in. Is Boris Johnson lying? Tell me a new story.”

“His opponent Keir Starmer is doing slightly better in the polls, Labor has a small lead but overall none of the numbers suggest an Australian event – where Labor came to power – will take place in Britain,” said Page.

“Maybe he’ll get away with it again,” he added.

Lawmakers who deliberately mislead Parliament are expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister, under the Ministerial Code, a set of official principles governing the conduct of politicians. However, these guidelines are not law and it is ultimately up to the Prime Minister to decide how to interpret and enforce them.

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