Boris Johnson has accepted “full responsibility” for a drinking and lawbreaking culture in Downing Street during the Covid pandemic, after senior official Sue Gray published a scathing verdict on the partygate affair.
Gray’s 37-page report — plus photographs — was an indictment of behaviour in 10 Downing Street in the middle of a national crisis, when the rest of the country was observing Covid lockdowns.
It spoke of Downing Street staff drinking excessively into the early hours and gave instances of vomiting, fighting and spilling red wine on walls and “multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff”.
Johnson, who was fined by the police for his participation at one party, apologised to MPs but shrugged off calls for his resignation. He insisted it was time to “move on” from the parties scandal.
The leadership of the civil service was also strongly criticised by Gray, but Simon Case, the head of the civil service, is expected to stay in his position, according to senior government figures.
Johnson, in a statement to MPs, said he “took responsibility for everything that took place on my watch”, adding: “I am humbled and I have learned.”
However, Labour MPs jeered Johnson as he explained the “context” of partygate, saying that staff worked “extremely long hours”, that No 10 was a big building and that on the vast majority of days there were no parties.
The prime minister insisted he had not lied to MPs about parties in Downing Street, saying that he either thought he was attending work events or that he was not at parties that got out of hand.
Sir Keir Starmer, Labour leader, urged Tory MPs to oust Johnson, saying Gray’s report “lays bare the rot that under this prime minister has spread in Number 10”.
No new Conservative MPs called for Johnson to resign, but Tory benches emptied quickly as Johnson spoke, suggesting lukewarm support for him. Starmer said Tory MPs had set the bar for Johnson’s conduct “lower than a snake’s belly”.
Gray’s report, which includes nine photographs of Johnson at various events, concluded that “many of these events should not have been allowed to happen”.
She added: “It is also the case that some of the more junior civil servants believed that their involvement in some of these events was permitted given the attendance of senior leaders.”
Pointing the finger at both Johnson and Case, she concluded: “The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.”
Gray concluded in her report: “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.”
However, she said: “It is my firm belief . . . that these events did not reflect the prevailing culture in government and the civil service at the time.”
Johnson drew laughter from MPs when he said “the entire senior management has changed” in Number 10. Both the prime minister and Case, who occupy the most senior leadership roles, remain in position.
After Johnson’s statement to MPs he will host a Downing Street press conference before addressing his party behind closed doors.
Before Gray’s report was published, most Conservative MPs had concluded that Johnson would survive the partygate affair, albeit with his reputation badly tarnished in the eyes of many voters.
Johnson’s allies are confident the prime minister will not face a no-confidence motion — letters requesting one are required from 54 Tory MPs to trigger such a contest — in spite of the latest revelations.
The prime minister hopes to move on quickly from the partygate scandal; chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to bring forward a package of measures to alleviate rising energy bills on Thursday.
Gray released an interim report in January that criticised the leadership within Number 10, but the full detailed report was put on hold until the Metropolitan Police concluded its own inquiries.
The police investigation ended last week, with 126 fines given out over events on eight dates. Johnson was fined for attending an impromptu birthday party in the cabinet room.