Boris says sorry and insists he can be trusted after damning Partygate report

31 January 2022, 15:42 | Updated: 1 February 2022, 01:36

Sue Gray's "partygate" report has been published
Sue Gray's "partygate" report has been published. Picture: Alamy/Getty

By Will Taylor

Boris Johnson has insisted he can be trusted and promised to "fix" Government after Sue Gray's Partygate report slammed No10 for "failures in leadership".

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Her report into 16 events - 12 of which are being investigated by police - hit out at how a number of gatherings during England's Covid restrictions were allowed to develop, which she said should not have been allowed.

Speaking to MPs after it the stripped-down "update" was published, the Prime Minister indicated he will battle on, even with Ms Gray's critical findings and the Met launching its own investigation.

"We asked people across this country to make the most extraordinary sacrifices - not to meet loved ones, not to visit relatives before they died, and I understand the anger that people feel," he told MPs.

"But it isn't enough to say sorry. This is a moment when we must look at ourselves in the mirror and we must learn.

"While the Metropolitan Police must yet complete their investigation, and that means there are no details of specific events in Sue Gray's report, I of course accept Sue Gray's general findings in full, and above all her recommendation that we must learn from these events and act now."

He added: "I want to say to the people of this country: I know what the issue is," he said, to jeers in the Commons.

Read more: Read it in full: Sue Gray's much-anticipated partygate report

Read more: Sue Gray "partygate" report published as Boris faces MPs - live updates

"It's whether this Government can be trusted to deliver and yes… we can be trusted to deliver."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson ought to resign but would not because he is a "man without shame", and said with the "eyes of the country" on the Government it should end the "farce".

Ms Gray's report, a stripped-down document after the Met asked for "minimal references" to gatherings it is investigating, was published on Monday afternoon. Mr Johnson did not commit to publishing the full report.

It said: "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.

Read more: Boris' birthday bash and Cummings' exit celebrations among 12 parties probed by police

"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."

Speaking in Parliament, Mr Johnson said he would do three things in the wake of the report. This will include changes to how No10 is run, a review of Civil Service codes of conduct, and additional measures for how Downing Street and the Cabinet Office work.

The events looked into by Ms Gray include:

  • a photo showing groups in the No 10 garden on 15 May 2020; a gathering in the No10 garden on 20 May 2020
  • a gathering in the Cabinet Office for a No10 private secretary on 18 June 2020
  • a gathering in the Cabinet room of Downing Street on Boris Johnson's birthday on 19 June 2020; a gathering in the No10 Downing Street flat and a gathering in No10 for a special adviser's departure on 13 November 2020
  • a gathering in No10 when for an outgoing special adviser on 27 November 2020; a gathering in the Department for Education on 10 December 2020
  • an online quiz where staff gathered in No10 on 15 December 2020
  • a gathering in the Cabinet Office for an online Christmas quiz, a gathering in the Cabinet Office for the departure of a senior official and a gathering in No10 for an official who was leaving on 17 December 2020
  • a No10 gathering in No10 ahead of Christmas for 18 December 2020
  • a gathering in No10 for two private secretaries who were leaving on 14 January 2021
  • and two gatherings for a departing senior No10 official at Downing Street on 16 April 2021.

Her conclusion does not name Mr Johnson, despite speculation ahead of its release that it could seriously impact his future as Prime Minister.

In a fiery encounter in the Commons, former Prime Minister Theresa May said the report showed Mr Johnson either hadn't read Covid rules, didn't understand them or didn't think they applied to him - while the PM rejected her reading of the document.

Tory backbencher Andrew Mitchell, a former minister, said having backed Mr Johnson before he could no longer support him.

It was thought Ms Gray's findings would be watered down after the Met asked her to keep references to events police are investigating - with a view to issuing fixed penalty notices to Covid rule-breakers - to a minimum.

She added: "The gatherings within the scope of this investigation are spread over a 20-month period – a period that has been unique in recent times in terms of the complexity and breadth of the demands on public servants and indeed the general public. The whole of the country rose to the challenge.

"Ministers, special advisers and the Civil Service, of which I am proud to be a part, were a key and dedicated part of that national effort.

"However, as I have noted, a number of these gatherings should not have been allowed to take place or to develop in the way that they did. There is significant learning to be drawn from these events which must be addressed immediately across Government. This does not need to wait for the police investigations to be concluded."

Ms Gray also said the "excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time" and that staff wanted to raise concerns about "behaviours they witnessed at work" but sometimes felt unable to do so.

She added that while it was "sensible" to have used the Downing Street garden for Covid-secure meetings, it should not have been used without "clear authorisation and oversight".

Ms Gray said she decided not to publish factual accounts relating to events not under investigation by police because it would damage her overall findings.

She wrote: "In respect of the gatherings that the Metropolitan Police has assessed as not reaching the threshold for criminal investigation, they have not requested any limitations be placed on the description of those events, however, I have decided not to publish factual accounts in relation to those four dates.

"I do not feel that I am able to do so without detriment to the overall balance of the findings."

Downing Street later confirmed he would ask Ms Gray to "update her work in light of what is found" after the police investigation.