BoJo ‘Getting Off Lightly’, Say Tory MPs As Gray Probe's Omission Prompts 'Cover Up' Claims
05:45 GMT 26.05.2022 (Updated: 15:19 GMT 28.05.2023)
© AP Photo / Alastair GrantBritain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street for the House of Commons to make a statement about Downing Street parties during the coronavirus lockdowns in London, Tuesday, April 19, 2022
© AP Photo / Alastair Grant
Sue Gray’s final report into so-called “partygate” - a 60-page dossier shedding light on numerous alcohol-fuelled gatherings in Downing Street during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020-21 - was published on 25 May. The senior civil servant suggested that Boris Johnson should take responsibility for “failures of leadership” at the heart of government.
Tory MPs have voiced concerns over what they believe may amount to a “cover-up” after Sue Gray admitted on Wednesday that she did not fully investigate a Downing Street “Abba-themed party" in the flat shared by Boris Johnson and his wife, Carrie, during the coronavirus lockdown in the UK, reported daily newspaper The Guardian.
One senior Tory MP was cited as saying that the gathering which had escaped scrutiny had the potential to be “the most damaging event of the bunch for Johnson personally". He added that it was highly suspicious the 13 November 2020 event in the flat above 11 Downing Street had not been looked at, given that several of the people present were reportedly friends of Boris Johnson’s wife.
Another frontbench Conservative MP could not contain his disappointment over the fact the Sue Gray report “doesn’t clear up what parties did or didn’t happen in [the PM's] flat”, adding: “I think he’s getting away lightly.”
“The report makes clear that the PM attended party after party in his frat house. While he partied in his, others were domestically abused or isolated in theirs. The failure to investigate the infamous Abba party is a failure of courage and duty on the part of Gray,” another Tory MP was quoted as saying.
Sue Gray Dossier
The senior civil servant submitted her final report into “partygate” at the conclusion of her six-month inquiry on 25 May, revealing that alcohol-fuelled gatherings had taken place in and around Downing Street between May 2020 and April 2021 while the country was under strict coronavirus lockdown rules.
23 May 2022, 06:04 GMT
The 60-page dossier covering 16 events offered a lurid description of behaviour that “was not in line with Covid guidance at the time” - one Downing St employee vomited copiously after getting drunk and a "minor altercation" occurred between two others at a karaoke party.
Junior civil servants, claimed the report, were led to believe that their involvement in these events was acceptable. 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", and there were several examples of "unacceptably" poor treatment of security and cleaning staff.
‘Abba Party’ Dodges Probe
However, questions remained regarding what took place in the flat above 11 Downing Street on 13 November 2020, with snacks, a supply of alcohol and loud Abba music reportedly being played.
Gray’s full 60-page report had been delayed until the Metropolitan Police's investigation was concluded. Operation Hillman wrapped up on 19 May resulting in 126 small Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) fines being issued to 83 people for eight breaches of strict coronavirus lockdown restrictions between May 2020 and April 2021. Johnson, his wife, Carrie, and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak also received a fine each in relation to a surprise party for the UK Prime Minister’s 56th birthday on 19 June 2020 that was found to have breached coronavirus lockdown rules.
After Sue Gray had, accordingly, been given the green light to conclude her own probe, many had anticipated more damaging blowback for Boris Johnson - including in connection with the afore-mentioned gathering when Abba's 'Winner Takes It All' was reportedly heard blasting out of the No 11 flat.
25 May 2022, 11:49 GMT
The senior civil servant began investigating the event in December 2021. The gathering, on 13 November 2020, was reportedly hosted by Carrie Johnson, the Prime Minister's wife, to celebrate the departures of the PM’s senior aides - chief of staff, Dominic Cummings, and director of communications, Lee Cain.
Although Sue Gray was quick to establish that there had been alcohol on offer at the event, she shelved her inquiries in January, once Scotland Yard launched its own investigation. No fines were issued to any of the seven attendees, who included the Johnsons, Henry Newman, a special adviser, and four other political aides, newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported.
In her report published on Wednesday, Gray said she had “considered whether to conduct any further investigation into this event but concluded it was not appropriate or proportionate to do so”.
© Photo : Sue Gray's Partygate reportBoris Johnson raising a toast; 13 November 2020; a gathering in No 10 Downing Street on the departure of a special adviser
Boris Johnson raising a toast; 13 November 2020; a gathering in No 10 Downing Street on the departure of a special adviser
© Photo : Sue Gray's Partygate report
Gray offered little insight into the “meeting” at Downing Street, saying it began after 6pm and Boris Johnson joined it at about 8pm, after which discussions “carried on later into the evening” with food and alcohol available.
Some Tory MPs joined the opposition in voicing their surprise that the event had avoided a thorough investigation.
Chris Bryant, a Labour MP and chairman of the Commons standards committee, was “mystified why this hasn’t been investigated by Sue Gray”.
"I take full responsibility for everything that took place on my watch"— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) May 25, 2022
PM Boris Johnson begins his statement following the publication of Sue Gray's report https://t.co/Br1QFpEPkw pic.twitter.com/T2sQF31Fv1
Boris Johnson fended off a barrage of direct questions on the issue from several MPs in the Commons chamber. Justin Madders, a former shadow minister, asked:
“Can he confirm for the record everyone who was there that evening and [that] there was no alcohol, no music, or anything else that people might reasonably conclude constituted a party?”
The Prime Minister replied:
"That evening was extensively investigated, to the best of my knowledge, and I don't believe I can improve on what Sue Gray has had to say."
The PM told MPs in the Commons he was “humbled” by the findings of the probe in general, but insisted he attended leaving events for staff to “keep morale as high as possible”.
He also pointed out that the police had not fined him for the “brief appearances” at what he believed were “work events”.
“I had no knowledge of those subsequent proceedings because I simply wasn’t there,” stated Johnson. The PM now faces an inquiry from the House of Commons Privileges Committee into whether he misled parliament when he claimed that COVID-19 rules “had been observed at all times.”