Boris Johnson apologises in Commons after party probe report
Yes, this is actually happening. After what was probably the longest January ever, senior civil servant Sue Gray has finally published her report – or rather, ‘update’ - into rule-breaking Downing Street parties held during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
As was predicted and previously reported, Ms Gray has indeed been held back by the fact that the Metropolitan Police are now investigating the parties too, writing in her publication that she has been told “it would only be appropriate to make minimal reference to the gatherings on the dates they are investigating”.
“Unfortunately, this necessarily means that I am extremely limited in what I can say about those events and it is not possible at present to provide a meaningful report setting out and analysing the extensive factual information I have been able to gather,” Ms Gray added.
The document reveals that there were four gatherings which were looked into by the civil servant, but these were not picked up for further investigation by the police.
These were the 15 May 2020 gathering showing Boris and Carrie Johnson in the garden with civil servants; a 27 November 2020 gathering marking the departure of a special adviser; a gathering in the Department for Education on 10 December 2020 and the online Christmas quiz on 15 December 2020.
“The police have confirmed that on the basis of the information available the gatherings on these four dates are not considered to have reached the threshold for criminal investigation,” Ms Gray wrote.
While we’ll spare you from having to read the full list of parties in the report, one gathering is not quite like the others, in that it involves the already controversial Downing Street flat and a party held on 13 November 2020 – the same day that Dominic Cummings left his role as a special adviser.
According to the Daily Mail, this was allegedly a ‘Winner Takes It All Abba party’, but we have a feeling that Ms Johnson isn’t a “dancing queen” anymore.
A lot of the document goes into the methodology (Ms Gray interviewed over 70 individuals, “some more than once” as part of her enquiry) and the context which the investigation sits within – namely that we’re in a deadly global pandemic, in case you had forgotten.
What’s far more interesting are the findings and conclusions, which are basically one giant subtweet, to be honest.
Even though our pal Sue had to hold back on some of the factual matters of her investigation, she didn’t hold back in saying that the behaviour at these gatherings were “difficult to justify” and demonstrated “a serious failure to observe” the high standards expected of both the public and the government at the time.
She continued: “At times it seems there was too little thought given to what was happening across the country in considering the appropriateness of some of these gatherings, the risks they presented to public health and how they might appear to the public.
“There were failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times. Some of the events should not have been allowed to take place. Other events should not have been allowed to develop as they did.
“The excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time. 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.”
Even though Ms Gray was against drinking booze at work, she couldn’t help but take shots, huh?
She went on to add that while the Downing Street garden was used “as an extension of the workplace” for Covid-secure reasons during the pandemic, its use “should be primarily for the prime minister and the residents of No 10 and No 11 Downing Street”.
“The garden was also used for gatherings without clear authorisation or oversight. This was not appropriate. Any official access to the space, including for meetings, should be by invitation only and in a controlled environment,” she said.
Sure, the parties may have been against the rules, but at least there was pressure to cover up, with staff reporting that they “wanted to raise concerns about behaviours they witnessed at work but at times they felt unable to do so”.
“No member of staff should feel unable to report or challenge poor conduct where they witness it. There should be easier ways for staff to raise such concerns informally, outside of the line management chain,” Ms Gray wrote.
She added the leadership structures in No 10 are “fragmented and complicated”, with “the blurring of lines of accountability”, and that this should be “addressed as a matter of priority”.
Of course, such a big moment in the political calendar often leads to memes, and Twitter brought home the goods – especially in relation to the page intentionally left blank on page two:
there's more "this page intentionally blank" in the sue gray report than there is in an edexcel exam
Sue Gray, "intentionally blank" twice if you're being silenced
— The ghost of Rob past (@The ghost of Rob past)
The political response
Addressing MPs in the Commons, Mr Johnson began by saying “I want to say sorry” and that “I get it, and I will fix it”.
“I know what the issue is. It is whether the government can be trusted to deliver, and I say yes, we can be trusted,” he said.
He also confirmed that an office of the prime minister would be created, along with a permanent secretary to No 10.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer pointed out there were 12 parties listed as being examined by the police, adding “there can now be no doubt” the PM is “not subject to a criminal investigation”.
He also said the document had issued the “most damning conclusion possible”.
Elsewhere, the Westminster leader of the Scottish National Party, Ian Blackford, was ordered to leave the Commons for alleging the prime minister had “misled the House” over the parties, but left before Speaker Lindsay Hoyle finished his comments.
With Ms Gray’s document being titled an ‘update’ and not a ‘report’, and with the Met Police investigation ongoing, something tells us this issue isn’t going away for a while.
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