The Speaker
Thursday, 13 June 2024 – 09:34
Photo by Number 10 Downing Street (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Boris Johnson faces MPs and the media as Sue Gray report is published

Sue Gray’s long-awaited report has today been published in full, detailing the 16 Downing Street lockdown parties which the senior civil servant has been investigating for the past 6 months.

Sue Gray had previously decided to delay the release of her findings to allow the Metropolitan Police Force to conduct its investigation of the gatherings without biasing it. Gray released a short update in February which intentionally lacked detail on events but which found significant shortfalls in the behaviour of No. 10 officials and staff.

As a result of the police investigation the Prime Minister, his wife, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were issued fixed penalty notices (FPN) requiring the payment of £50 fines. The police issued a total of 126 FPNs to some 83 people for 8 events which they found to have been in breach of lockdown regulations.

Sue Gray’s report has been published in full less than a week after the Met Police concluded its investigation.

The report’s main conclusions are as follows:

  • Whatever the initial intent, what took place at many of these gatherings and the way in which they developed was not in line with Covid guidance at the time. Even allowing for the extraordinary pressures officials and advisers were under, the factual findings of this report illustrate some attitudes and behaviours inconsistent with that guidance. It is also clear, from the outcome of the police investigation, that a large number of individuals who attended these events breached Covid regulations and therefore Covid guidance.

  • The events that I investigated were attended by leaders in government. Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen. 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.

  • I found that some staff had witnessed or been subjected to behaviours at work which they had felt concerned about but at times felt unable to raise properly. I was made aware of multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff. This was unacceptable.

  • Many will be 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. It is my firm belief, however, that these events did not reflect the prevailing culture in Government and the Civil Service at the time. Many thousands of people up and down the country worked tirelessly to deliver in unprecedented times. I remain immensely proud to be a civil servant and of the work of the service and the wider public sector during the pandemic.

The report also revealed various strings of messages sent between No. 10 officials, showing that concerns were raised before several of the events that they would be either in breach of covid rules or at the very least “bad for comms”.

The most egregious breaking of regulations was perhaps the gathering on the 18th of June 2020, when the rules prohibited more than two people meeting indoors except when it was “reasonably necessary for work purposes”. The night reportedly concluded with “Excessive alcohol consumption by some individuals. One individual was sick. There was a minor altercation between two other individuals.”

Another major point of criticism from the report is its finding of “a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff.” Although the report does acknowledge that No. 10 has since been equipped with services whereby security, cleaning, and other staff can submit complaints online.

Somewhat controversially, the gathering that took place on the 13th of November 2020, a leaving do for then Director of Communications Lee Cain, was not investigated in any real depth by Gray. The gathering was the one from which images showing the Prime Minister toasting his erstwhile colleague originated. The images were only made public on Tuesday, and drew renewed ire from the public and political pundits alike. The Gray report says of the gathering:

“The information collected on this gathering is limited as the process of obtaining evidence had only just been commenced when the Metropolitan Police announced their own investigations, which included events on the 13 November 2020. At this point I stopped my investigation, given the need to avoid any prejudice to the police investigation. Following the Metropolitan Police announcement on 19 May 2022 I considered whether or not to conduct any further investigation into this event but concluded it was not appropriate or proportionate to do so.”

The report was discussed in parliament on Wednesday afternoon, following immediately after Prime Minister’s questions.

While a few months ago bookies commentators were predicting Johnson would soon be handing in his resignation, it is clear that he has no such inclination and wants to continue pushing forwards. In the discussion, the Prime Minister said:

“I hope that now that [Sue Gray] has reported we will be able to move on to focus on the priorities of the British people. Standing firm against Russian aggression. Easing the hardship caused by the rising costs that people are facing. Fulfilling our pledges to generate a high-wage, high-skill, high-employment economy that will unite and level up the whole of the United Kingdom.”

Leader of the Labour Party Keir Starmer responded by calling criticising the Prime Minister as a “lawbreaker” and calling on Conservative MPs to move for a vote of no confidence. He said:

“That report lays bare the rot that under this Prime Minister has spread through No. 10 and it provides definitive proof of how those within the building treated the sacrifices of the British people with utter contempt.”

“When the dust settles and the anger subsides this report will stand as a monument to the hubris and the arrogance of a government that believed it was one rule for them and another rule for everyone else.”

“[The Conservatives] pretend that the Prime Minister has somehow been exonerated as if the fact that he only broke the law once is worthy of praise.”

“Members opposite must finally do their bit. They must tell the current inhabitant; their leader: “This has gone on too long.” The game is up. You cannot be a law-maker and a lawbreaker, and it is time to pack his bags. Only then can the government function again. Only then can the rot be carved out. Only then can we restore the dignity of that great office and the democracy that it represents.”

Leader of the SNP Ian Blackford predictably put forwards his weekly call for the Prime Minister’s resignation:

“The Prime Minister’s despatch box denial of a party taking place on the 13th of November is now proven to be untrue. He was there on the 13th of November; photographed raising a toast, surrounded by gin, wine, and other revellers. The charge of misleading parliament is a resignation matter. Will the Prime Minister now, finally, resign?”

“Credibility, truth, morality, all matter. And the Prime Minister has been found lacking time and time again.”

“Ethics have to be part of our public life, and ethical behaviour has to be at the core of the demeanour and the response of any Prime Minister. The Prime Minister brings shame upon the office, and has displayed contempt, not only to the members of this house but to every single person who followed the rules.”

“When the Tory members opposite retire to the 1922 committee this evening, I hope they will bear in mind the now infamous government advert featuring a desperately ill COVID patient. It said “Look into her eyes and tell her you will never bend the rules”. If they don’t … remove this Prime Minister how will they ever look at their constituents in the eye ever again?”

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey said:

“The Prime Minister says he is sorry, but he is only sorry that he got caught. He didn’t care then, as he partied during lockdown when people couldn’t see their dying loved ones. He didn’t care last year when he insisted no rules had been broken. He doesn’t care now when families across our country are struggling to heat their homes, fill their cars and put food on the table with a cost of living crisis that has only deepened while the Prime Minister has been struggling to save his own skin. Can the Prime Minister look the British people in the eye and name just one person he cares about, more than himself?”

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