Boris Johnson faced a moment of truth on Partygate today as the Sue Gray report was finally published condemning ‘failures of leadership and judgement’ in Downing Street.
The top civil servant’s findings have been released disclosing that police are now investigating twelve bashes as potentially criminal lockdown breaches.
Mr Johnson is claimed to have attended at least three of them – although there is no clarity on whether he personally is being treated as a suspect.
The police cases include a gathering in the Cabinet Room for Mr Johnson’s 56th birthday in June 2020, and what has been described as a ‘victory party’ with Abba songs in the No11 flat after Dominic Cummings was ousted in November that year following a power struggle with Carrie Johnson.
A ‘bring your own booze’ party allegedly organised by Mr Johnson’s private secretary Martin Reynolds is also being looked at by Scotland Yard, as well as a raucous leaving do for senior aides on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral.
And Cabinet Secretary Simon Case has been dragged into the furore as a drinks event in his office is also under the police microscope. He has insisted he did not attend.
In the document – which runs to just six pages plus annexes – Ms Gray said she is ‘extremely limited’ in what she could publish due to police requesting ‘minimal reference’ to incidents they are investigating.
And she made clear that she wants to release more information once Scotland Yard has completed its work – something No10 has so far refused to commit to.
Mr Johnson published the watered down ‘as received’ barely an hour before he makes a Commons statement at 3.30pm. He will then address a meeting of the Conservative parliamentary party in Downing Street at 6.30pm.
Opposition MPs immediately demanded the premier’s resignation, saying he ‘broke the rules and lied to the country’.
The Gray report warns that ‘excessive consumption of alcohol’ is not appropriate at the heart of government.
Her brutal conclusions state: ‘Against the backdrop of the pandemic, when the Government was asking citizens to accept far-reaching restrictions on their lives, some of the behaviour surrounding these gatherings is difficult to justify.
‘At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of Government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time.
‘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.
‘The use of the garden at No 10 Downing Street should be primarily for the Prime Minister and the private residents of No 10 and No 11 Downing Street. During the pandemic it was often used as an extension of the workplace as a more covid secure means of holding group meetings in a ventilated space. This was a sensible measure that staff appreciated, but 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. ‘
Rumours have been swirling at Westminster that key aides will have to fall on their swords, but Mr Johnson is said to feel ‘reassured’ that the threat of a successful coup against him by Tory backbenchers has receded.
The crisis over Ukraine also looks like overshadowing the Partygate saga, with the premier visiting the country tomorrow and demanding Vladimir Putin steps back from the brink of invasion.
He has been assisted by fledgling signs of a recovery in the polls – although the Conservatives are still trailing Labour-and has emerged that police are likely to hand out any fixed penalty notices to lockdown breachers without making their names public – an approach that could limit embarrassment.
Mr Johnson’s former adviser Will Walden said he had ‘used up quite a lot of lives’ on Partygate, but suggested events had ‘inadvertently’ fallen well for him.
But there is still the potential for the situation to flare up dramatically, with Ms Gray understood to have been told about a ‘victory party’ held by friends of Mr Johnson’s wife Carrie in the No11 flat to mark the resignation of Dominic Cummings.
Mr Johnson has also come under fire from an ex-No 10 official who says he vetoed plans to allow bereaved families to set up bubbles with their close relatives when restrictions began to ease last year.
Asked on a visit to Essex about fears the inquiry will be a ‘whitewash’ because of the changes, Mr Johnson said: ‘You are going to have to wait and see both what Sue says and of course what the Met says.’
The Prime Minister was also questioned about reportedly telling MPs privately he thinks he has done nothing wrong.
‘You’re going to have to wait and see the outcome of the investigations, but of course I stick absolutely to what I’ve said in the past,’ he told reporters at a freeport in Tilbury.