A long-awaited report into parties held at the heart of British government while the country was under COVID lockdown has said Prime Minister Boris Johnson “must bear responsibility” for the social events that broke his own’s government’s guidelines.
The report reveals raucous parties, including events where a member of staff threw up, government employees got into a fight, and a karaoke machine was brought in – as well as an email where a senior official said they had “got away” with throwing a party.
“Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen,” the report, which is not an independent inquiry, said. “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. The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.”
Johnson continues to face embarrassing revelations about the social events that he attended while the rest of the country was being asked to observe strict lockdowns.
In an apology to MPs in the House of Commons, Boris Johnson said of the report's findings: “I am humbled and I have learned a lesson.” He said, though, that the events he attended had been “work events”.
The 37-page report, which was led by Cabinet Office official Sue Gray, looked into 16 lockdown events held during COVID lockdowns. It makes for uncomfortable reading for the British government as it describes each party and the way it broke COVID guidelines in detail.
At one hours-long, 25-person party – held on the 18th of June, 2020 while it was illegal for more than two people from different households to meet indoors – the report describes an event in which “one individual was sick,” while “there was a minor altercation between two other individuals.”
Gray’s report concludes that she was “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,” the report concludes. It also found that security guards and cleaners were treated poorly when they tried to intervene.
The report features WhatsApp messages sent by senior Downing Street officials that appear to admit staff were aware the parties were against the rules. “A 200-odd person invitation for drinks in the garden of no 10 is somewhat of a comms risk in the current environment,” wrote Lee Cain, the then-No 10. Director of Communications, in an email to senior advisers Martin Reynolds and Dominic Cummings about a garden party held on the 20th of May, 2020.
Another email from a special adviser to Reynolds about the same party said: “Drinks this eve is a lovely idea so I’ve shared with the E & V team who are in the office. Just to flag that the press conference will probably be finishing around that time, so helpful if people can be mindful of that as speakers and cameras are leaving, not walking around waving bottles of Zine etc.”
In a message included in the report, Reynolds – who has since been nicknamed “Party Marty” – sent a message to a colleague saying, "Best of luck - a complete non-story but better than them focusing on our drinks (which we seem to have got away with).”
The report also contains several pages of photographs that show Boris Johnson celebrating at a boozy leaving party for a senior adviser on the 13th of November, 2020, and attending a birthday party thrown for him on the 19th of June, 2020.
The report's findings follow a months-long police investigation that issued 126 fines related to eight parties to 83 Downing Street staff for breaking lockdown rules. In April, Johnson became the first British prime minister in history to be fined while in office when he was issued a fixed penalty notice for attending his birthday party.
In the end, however, Metropolitan Police investigators declined to issue the prime minister with more fines, even though dozens of junior staffers are believed to have been penalised for attending other parties in which the prime minister attended. As a result, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has written to the acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Stephen House, to get an explanation for the discrepancy.
Johnson’s immediate future as prime minister will be up to his fellow Tory MPs, who have the power to force a leadership challenge in the Conservative Party.