By Connor Steel
BORIS JOHNSON has announced fundamental changes to Downing Street operations in response to the much awaited publication of Sue Gray’s ‘partygate’ report which occurred on Monday morning; saying sorry to voters and accepting all initial findings of the redacted document during a sombre statement to a packed House of Commons at 3:30pm this afternoon.
The PM’s comments come after Sue Gray, a top official at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, released a twelve page ‘update of her findings after a two month investigation into alleged parties across Downing Street and Whitehall. She has talked to 70 individuals, examined official communications, and looked at visitor logs alongside many photographs, although no more information is available.
Today’s published report was a severely redacted version of the prepared report, which was delayed last week due to the Metropolitan Police launching an investigation. It has since been announced that Scotland Yard are currently looking at twelve events, including a birthday celebration in June 2020, a garden party, and an occasion that was allegedly held in the Number 10 flat in November 2020 when Britain was in their second national lockdown.
Four events have been ruled out from police investigations and all evidence has been handed over to officers for the remaining twelve events, with the report stressing that “No conclusions should be drawn, or inferences made from this other than it is now”. But the key points of the report make for uncomfortable reading by Mr Johnson, which include the following:
- Some behaviour at the gatherings is “difficult to justify” given the public was being asked to “accept far-reaching restrictions on their lives”.
- Some of the events represent a “serious failure to observe” standards for government and those expected of the public at the time
- At times it seems there was “too little thought” given to what was going on in the country, the risk to public health, and how the events might appear to the public.
- There were “failures of leadership and judgement” 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”
- There should be “easier ways for staff to raise… concerns informally, outside of the line-management chain”
- The “excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time”
- Every government department should have a “clear and robust policy in place covering the consumption of alcohol”
The initial findings of this report have naturally gained criticism from opposition MPS as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “By routinely breaking the rules he set, the Prime Minister took us all for fools. He held people’s sacrifice in contempt. He showed himself unfit for office”. SNP leader Ian Blackfield was then asked to leave the Chamber after refusing to withdraw his ‘misleading Parliament’ remark against the Prime Minister and there were many calls for the resignation of the Conservative party leader.
Anger from Mr Johnson’s backbenchers was also rife with former PM Theresa May saying: “What the Gray report does show is that No 10 Downing Street was not observing the regulations they had imposed on members of the public. So either my right honourable friend had not read the rules or didn’t understand what they meant and others around him, or they didn’t think the rules applied to Number 10. Which was it?”
And former cabinet member Andrew Mitchell, a former international development secretary, said Mr Johnson had always enjoyed his “full-throated support” but he was now “deeply concerned”. He added: “When he kindly invited me to see him 10 days ago, I told him that I thought he should think very carefully about what was now in the best interests of our country and of the Conservative Party, and I have to tell him he no longer enjoys my support,”.
In a bid to calm anger the PM vowed to learn from Sue Gray’s initial findings, saying he “gets it” and “will fix it”. He went on to say: “I am sorry for the things we simply didn’t get right and also sorry for the way this matter has been handled,” he said, as he promised a shake-up of the way Downing Street is run.
The PM said he would create an Office of The Prime Minister, who would be in charge of over 400 civil servants and they must report regularly. A review of the civil service code of conduct will be held, whilst measures may be taken to improve the way that Governments work; including structural changes such as a steam-lined system. There was no further details or timeline given for these to occur in the statement.
It is unknown whether more letters of no-confidence will be submitted in Mr Johnson after this report that could potentially trigger a leadership vote, with the PM scheduled to visit Ukraine tomorrow in a bid to deter military conflict with Russia. Neither local MPs Dame Caroline Dinenage or Attorney General Suella Braverman have made any comment at the time of writing.
Readers can examine the report in detail by visiting this Government link.
PICTURED BY BBC NEWS (VIA GETTY IMAGES): Downing Street under fire and scrutiny after publication of Sue Gray report this morning.