Boris Johnson Under Fire as Just-Released 'Partygate' Report Details COVID Rule-Breaking, Excessive Drinking

Civil servant Sue Gray released her long-awaited report on an ethics inquiry into 16 gatherings held by government officials during periods of COVID-related lockdowns in England

Protesters hold placards calling Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak "guilty" over Partygate during the demonstration. Anti-Boris Johnson protesters gathered in Parliament Square as pressure mounts on the Prime Minister over the Partygate scandal.
Photo: Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

Embattled British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seen raising a glass in photos included in the long-awaited report released Wednesday on the political scandal dubbed "Partygate."

Senior civil servant Sue Gray, who oversees ethics inquiries for the British government, published the lengthy report after investigating 16 social gatherings that took place during a 20-month period of various levels of COVID-related lockdowns in England.

"Against the backdrop of the pandemic, when the Government was asking citizens to accept far-reaching restrictions on their lives, some of the behavior surrounding these gatherings is difficult to justify," Gray says in the report.

"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."

After Gray's findings were published, Johnson made a statement at the House of Commons, telling members of Parliament, "I am humbled and I have learned a lesson."

"Whatever the failings of … No. 10 and the Cabinet Office throughout this difficult period and my own, I continue to believe the civil servants and advisers in question … are good, hard-working people motivated by the highest calling to do the very best for our country," he continued.

Angry British citizens and members of the opposition have called on Johnson to resign in the wake of the scandal.

"The door of 10 Downing Street is one of the great symbols of British democracy," Labour Leader Keir Starmer wrote in a tweet Wednesday. "A democracy which relies on the principles of honesty and integrity. Its current inhabitant has failed to uphold these principles. Boris Johnson must go."

Starmer also said Johnson and his party had set the bar for acceptable behavior "lower than a snake's belly."

"This is about trust," he told the House of Commons, adding that though Johnson told the British public in a May 20, 2020, press conference that "normal life as we know it is a long way off," it "wasn't the case in No. 10."

For each of the 16 events, Gray describes who attended, for how long, where people gathered, what restrictions were in place, whether concerns were raised and if alcohol was consumed.

"The excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time," Gray says in the report, which chronicles among other events "Wine Time Fridays," a regular occurrence at Downing Street's press office. "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."

Boris Johnson, Partygate
UK Cabinet Office

On the Friday before Christmas 2020 when indoor gatherings of two or more people from different households were prohibited, "a gathering lasting several hours took place in the No 10 Press Office. Between 20 and 45 individuals attended over the course of the evening to celebrate the end of year and Christmas. The event included a Secret Santa and an awards ceremony. There was alcohol and food," according to Gray's report on one of the "Wine Time Friday" celebrations.

Gray's report says the event was typical in that senior officials used the occasions to recognize the achievements and efforts of staff by handing out rewards and a "small trophy cup." But on Dec. 18, the officials also celebrated the upcoming holiday as well as the end of the year.

The report also notes that the press office maintained "almost full staff attendance in the office during the pandemic, in order to carry out their roles effectively."

WhatsApp messages were sent Nov. 27, 2020, to press office officials, which read, "Hey team - do you want to participate in press office secret Santa?" and "We will do gift exchange and cheese and (lots of) wine on 18th Dec.," according to the report, which notes that "a number of staff replied positively."

According to the report, "some members of staff drank excessively."

Gray recommends that every government department should have a "clear and robust policy in place" on consuming alcohol in the workplace.

She also called out "multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff," which she said was "unacceptable."

A placard calling on Boris Johnson to resign is seen during the demonstration. Anti Boris Johnson protesters gathered outside Downing Street ahead of the planned publication of the Sue Gray report, as the Metropolitan Police concludes its investigation of the Partygate scandal with just one fine for the Prime Minister.
A placard calling on Boris Johnson to resign. Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

After the Dec. 18 Christmas celebration, the report states that a "cleaner who attended the room the next morning noted that there had been red wine spilled on one wall and on a number of boxes of photocopier paper."

At another goodbye party on June 18, 2020, Gray reports "excessive alcohol consumption by some individuals" and someone became "sick," while two others engaged in a "minor altercation."

Johnson told reporters the treatment of cleaning and security staff was "utterly intolerable" and promised to make a "proper apology."

In addition to her findings, Gray mentions the outcome of a Metropolitan Police investigation, which resulted in fines or "fixed penalty notices" (FPN) for breaches of Covid-19 regulations on eight dates.

"They did confirm that a total of 83 individuals received FPNs and that some people received more than one," she said of the police. "In order to refer for an FPN, officers were required to have a reasonable belief that the individual had committed an offence under the regulations."

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