UK investigation into Covid lockdown parties says senior leadership 'must bear responsibility'
- The comprehensive report from senior civil servant Sue Gray found that many of the gatherings held at Downing Street and Whitehall during Covid lockdowns over the last two years should not have been allowed to happen.
- In a damning verdict, Gray said senior leadership "must bear responsibility for this culture."
- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he takes "full responsibility" for everything that happened on his watch but called on lawmakers to "move on."
- Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said the report is a "monument to the hubris and the arrogance of a government that believed it was one rule for them, and another rule for everyone else."
LONDON — A highly anticipated investigation into numerous Covid-19 lockdown-breaking parties at British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's office and residence has been released, intensifying pressure on the embattled Conservative Party leader.
The comprehensive report from senior civil servant Sue Gray found that many of the gatherings held at Downing Street and Whitehall during Covid lockdowns over the last two years should not have been allowed to happen.
It lays out in embarrassing detail how several events unfolded, including one leaving party on June 18 when a gathering of two or more persons indoors in England was prohibited. On this occasion, the event lasted for several hours and there was excessive alcohol consumption by some. "One individual was sick" and a "minor altercation" occurred between two others, the report said.
In a damning verdict, Gray said senior leadership "must bear responsibility for this culture."
"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."
Gray had launched an inquiry following media reports of gatherings and alleged parties in government buildings during Covid lockdowns over a 20-month period.
A full version of the report had been delayed due to a separate police inquiry. The Metropolitan Police's investigation resulted in 126 fines to 83 people.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon, Johnson thanked Gray for her work and said he takes "full responsibility" for everything that happened on his watch.
The prime minister said he was "appalled" by behavior at lockdown parties but defended attending some leaving dos. "I hope very much that now that she has reported, we will be able to move on and focus on the priorities of the British people," Johnson said.
Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said the report is a "monument to the hubris and the arrogance of a government that believed it was one rule for them, and another rule for everyone else."
"Members opposite must finally do their bit. They must tell the current inhabitant, their leader that this has gone on too long. The game is up. You cannot be a lawmaker and a lawbreaker," Starmer said.
"It is time to pack his bags. Only then can the government function again, only then can the rot be carved out, only then can we restore the dignity of that great office and the democracy that it represents."
Sterling fell to a session low against the U.S. dollar shortly after the report was published. The U.K. currency was last seen down 0.2% at $1.2501 during afternoon deals.
What does the report say?
Gray's report reaffirmed the findings in her initial, redacted report from late January, which sharply criticized government leadership.
"Whatever the initial intent, what took place at many of these gatherings and the way in which they developed was not in line with Covid guidance at the time," the report said.
"Even allowing for the extraordinary pressures officials and advisers were under, the factual findings of this report illustrate some attitudes and behaviours inconsistent with that guidance."
Gray said in Wednesday's full report that she was "pleased progress is being made in addressing the issues."
There are nine photographs of two separate events published in the report. One shows Johnson's June 19, 2020, birthday party for which the prime minister, his partner Carrie and Finance Minister Rishi Sunak were fined by police, and the other shows Johnson at a leaving do for Director of Communications Lee Cain.
Gray said some staff "had witnessed or been subjected to behaviours at work which they had felt concerned about but at times felt unable to raise properly. I was made aware of multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff. This was unacceptable."
Cleaners gave evidence of wine being spilled over one wall and on a number of boxes of photocopier paper following a "Wine Time Friday" event on Dec. 18, 2020. At an alcohol-fueled quiz held three days earlier, one Downing Street official sent a message to advise staff to leave via the back exit to avoid being photographed by the press.
On June 18, 2020, Gray said a number of Downing Street officials attended a gathering at the Cabinet secretary's private waiting room. The report found "some brought pizza and prosecco" to the event, while Helen MacNamara, then deputy Cabinet secretary, provided a karaoke machine, which was set up in an adjoining office.
Calls to resign
Gray's full report comes after even more revelations in recent days of further alcohol-fueled social events held at Downing Street during Covid lockdowns, with Johnson pictured raising a glass at a leaving do on Nov. 13, 2020.
The images, obtained by ITV News, prompted fresh claims from opposition lawmakers that Johnson had knowingly misled Parliament when he previously told the House of Commons that no rules had been broken.
Johnson has repeatedly resisted calls to resign from across the political spectrum, despite sustained public anger over a long and growing list of alleged lockdown breaches.
When asked Wednesday whether public opinion likely reflected the end of the road for Johnson's time in office, Ben Page, CEO of market research firm Ipsos, said, "On the numbers I have at the moment, not yet."
Speaking to CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" in Davos, Switzerland, Page said Johnson "is unpopular but the fact that people think he may have lied in one way is priced in. Boris Johnson lying? Tell me a new story."
"His opponent Keir Starmer is doing a bit better in the polls, the Labour Party has a small lead, but overall, none of the numbers indicate that an Australian-like event — where the Labor Party swept to power — is going to happen in Britain," Page said.
"He might yet again get away with it," he added.
Lawmakers who deliberately mislead Parliament are expected to offer their resignation to the prime minister, according to the Ministerial Code, an official set of principles on how politicians should conduct themselves. This guidance is not law, however, and it is ultimately up to the prime minister to decide on how to interpret and enforce it.