A long-awaited probe into Britain’s lockdown-breaching parties says blame for a “culture” of rule-breaking in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office must rest with those at the helm.
The report, released on Wednesday, includes photos that show Johnson raising a glass at a birthday party held in his honor, as the rest of the country was banned from seeing friends or relatives during the coronavirus pandemic.
The report, published by a senior civil servant, Sue Gray, shows “failures of leadership and judgment in No. 10.”
"Those in the most junior positions attended gatherings at which their seniors were present, or indeed organized,” Gray said.
Gray investigated 16 gatherings attended by the prime minister and his staff in 2020 and 2021, while people in Britain were barred from socializing under coronavirus restrictions imposed by Johnson’s government.
“Whatever the initial intent,” Gray wrote, “what took place at many of these gatherings and the way they developed was not in line with COVID guidance at the time.”
She wrote about a gathering on May 5, 2020, in the Downing Street garden when “People were gathered for separate meetings in the No 10 garden where alcohol was drunk; the prime minister brought cheese and wine from his flat for an outdoor meeting lasting between 40 minutes and an hour.”
Gatherings of more than two people in public were banned unless they were "essential for work purposes,” she wrote.
In total, nine photographs from inside Downing Street appear in the report, showing Johnson, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, gathered in the Cabinet Room for a birthday party thrown in the PM's honor in June 2020.
A separate police investigation resulted in 83 people getting hit with fines, including Johnson. Johnson became the first ever British prime minister to have broken the law while in office.
Gray wrote in her report that there was "no excuse for some of the behavior" she investigated, which included "excessive alcohol consumption."
Facing a mutiny in his own Conservative Party, he had appealed to the lawmakers threatening to remove him to wait for Gray’s report to establish the facts.
The damning report could now result in the prime minister’s removal. In an address to Parliament, Johnson rejected calls to resign on Wednesday.
"I take full responsibility for everything that took place on my watch," he told MPs in response to Gray’s report, insisting: "I am humbled, and I have learned."
Johnson, however claimed that he was absent from most of the events, and denied ever lying to parliament. He also denied that urged Gray privately to bury her 37-page report.
In response to the police report, he said that he was “humbled” and had “learned a lesson” but that it was now time to “move on” and focus on the government’s priorities.
His critics accused him of lying to Parliament about the events.
Johnson, however, argued that when he told Parliament last year that no rules were broken and there were no parties, “it was what I believed to be true.”
Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament are expected to resign.
Gray’s report is now expected to revive calls from Conservative lawmakers for a no-confidence vote in the leader who won them a big parliamentary majority just over two years ago.
If Johnson lost such a vote, he would be replaced as Conservative leader and prime minister.