Boris Johnson 'humbled' but wants to move on from 'partygate' after probe report

United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson departs 10 Downing Street for Prime Minister’s Questions, the first since the Sue Gray Report into “Partygate” has been made public, on May 25, 2022 in London.

United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson departs 10 Downing Street for Prime Minister’s Questions, the first since the Sue Gray Report into “Partygate” has been made public, on May 25, 2022 in London. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has responded to an investigative report on government parties that took place during coronavirus lockdowns by saying he takes “full responsibility for everything that took place.”

But while the report published on Wednesday said the blame for rule-breaking lies at the top of government, Mr. Johnson insisted again that he did not knowingly break any rules. He ignored calls from opponents to resign.

The Prime Minister said he was “humbled” and had “learned a lesson” but that it was now time to “move on” and focus on the government’s priorities.

Senior civil servant Sue Gray’s long-awaited report said the “senior leadership team ... must bear responsibility” for a culture that allowed the flouting of rules to happen.

Mr. Johnson and other senior officials bear responsibility for a culture of rule-breaking that resulted in several parties that breached the U.K.’s COVID-19 lockdown rules.

Revelations that Mr. Johnson and his staff repeatedly flouted the rules they imposed on others have elicited outrage in Britain and led to calls from opponents for the Prime Minister to resign. But most lawmakers in his party have so far stood by him, and it’s not yet clear if the much-anticipated report will change that.

Mr. Johnson plans to address Parliament later on Wednesday on the findings, and he will have to explain why he told lawmakers previously that no parties were held at his Downing Street office and no rules were broken.

‘Failures of leadership and judgment in No. 10’

In her report into the “partygate” scandal, Ms. Gray said the “senior leadership team ... must bear responsibility” for a culture that allowed events to take place that “should not have been allowed to happen.”

Ms. Gray investigated 16 gatherings attended by Mr. Johnson and his staff in 2020 and 2021 while people in the U.K. were barred from socialising, or even from visiting sick and dying relatives, because of coronavirus restrictions.

Ms. Gray said there had been “failures of leadership and judgment in No. 10,” a reference to the address of the Prime Minister's Office.

“Those in the most junior positions attended gatherings at which their seniors were present, or indeed organised," she said.

A separate police investigation resulted in 83 people getting hit with fines, including PM Johnson — making him the first British Prime Minister ever found to have broken the law while in office.

Mr. Johnson has previously apologised but insisted he didn’t knowingly break the rules. The British media and opposition politicians have found that hard to square with staff member's accounts of “bring your own booze” parties and regular “wine time Fridays” in the prime minister’s 10 Downing St. office at the height of the pandemic.

Much of Ms. Gray's 37-page report is devoted to a detailed account of the events, including a May 2020 party in the Downing Street garden to which “the Prime Minister brought cheese and wine from his flat” and a party the following month at which “one individual was sick” and “there was a minor altercation between two other individuals.”

At another party, revelers in the garden broke a swing belonging to Ms. Johnson’s toddler son Wilf and partied until 4.00 a.m.

“Many will be dismayed that behavior of this kind took place on this scale at the heart of government," Ms. Gray wrote. “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.”

Critics, some of them inside Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party, have said the Prime Minister has lied to Parliament about the events. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament are expected to resign.

Johnson manages to hold on to power

Mr. Johnson has clung on to power so far, partly because Russia’s invasion of Ukraine diverted public and political attention. Some Conservatives who considered seeking a no-confidence vote in their leader decided it would be rash to push Mr. Johnson out in the middle of the war, which is destabilising Europe and fuelling a cost-of-living crisis.

The Prime Minister got a further reprieve when the Metropolitan Police told him last week that he wouldn’t be getting any more fines even though he attended several events under investigation.

But Ms. Gray's conclusions could 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. Under party rules, such a vote is triggered if 15% of party lawmakers — currently 54 people — write letters calling for one.

If Mr. Johnson lost such a vote, he would be replaced as Conservative leader and prime minister. It’s unclear how many letters have been submitted so far.

Environment Secretary George Eustice defended the Prime Minister on Wednesday but acknowledged that the “boundary between what was acceptable and what wasn’t got blurred, and that was a mistake.”

“The Prime Minister himself has accepted that and recognizes there were of course failings and therefore there’s got to be some changes to the way the place is run,” Eustice told Times Radio.

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Printable version | Jun 24, 2022 12:31:20 pm |