UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson braces for release of Sue Gray Partygate report

Findings expected on Downing Street parties that led to calls for PM to resign

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has resisted calls to resign over the Partygate scandal. PA
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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was on Wednesday bracing for the release of a long-awaited report into parties at his Downing Street office during lockdown, a scandal that left him fighting for his political career.

The findings by civil service investigator Sue Gray are likely to make embarrassing reading for Mr Johnson after an interim report in January gave a scathing verdict on ethics at the heart of Britain’s government.

Her final report, based on dozens of interviews as well as emails, WhatsApp messages and Downing Street entry and exit logs, is expected to give the fullest rundown yet of what officials did while the public was banned from socialising.

A stream of revelations about social events at Downing Street outraged many people who had made painful sacrifices to obey the rules, and Mr Johnson has been accused of misleading parliament about what happened.

One of the most sensitive claims concerns an alleged event on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral last year, where the image of a lonely Queen Elizabeth II touched public hearts and came to sum up the sacrifices of lockdown.

Mr Johnson, who has apologised over the scandal, known as Partygate, has rejected calls to resign but was fined £50 ($63) after a separate police investigation for sharing a birthday cake with colleagues.

MPs on Mr Johnson’s Conservative benches have so far failed to muster the 54 letters they would need to trigger a leadership vote, but potential rebels will be closely watched after Ms Gray’s report is released.

Supporters of the prime minister have sought to portray the cake incident as a minor lapse and played down the significance of the scandal at a time of war in Europe. Critics are asking why Mr Johnson did not receive more fines.

The lengthy police inquiry took some of the heat out of the scandal and delayed the publication of Ms Gray’s findings, but new revelations in recent days have once again increased the pressure on Mr Johnson.

Photos were published on Monday of Mr Johnson raising a glass at an apparent leaving party, while witnesses on a BBC Panorama programme broadcast on Tuesday described what they said were regular social events during lockdown.

One recalled how staff had mocked a security guard who “tried to stop it all and he was just shaking his head in this party, being like ‘this shouldn’t be happening’”.

Cabinet minister George Eustice acknowledged before the report’s release that “the boundary between what was acceptable and what wasn’t got blurred, and that was a mistake”.

“Clearly what happened in Number 10 is a culture developed where they were working there, it was their place of work, and there were times when they would have a drink at the end of the day,” he told Times Radio.

Police said last week they had closed their investigation after issuing 126 fines against 83 people, linked to eight events from May 2020 to April 2021.

That opened the door for Ms Gray to release her report, after she held back detailed findings in January to avoid prejudicing the Metropolitan Police inquiry.

But she wrote in general remarks that some of the gatherings in question were a “serious failure” to observe the standards expected of officials and of the British public at the time.

She said some of the behaviour at Downing Street was “difficult to justify” and described “failures of leadership and judgment” by senior government officials in considering whether social gatherings should take place.

Updated: May 25, 2022, 8:17 AM