Sue Gray's report on lockdown parties at Downing Street is published
Sue Gray's report into lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street and Whitehall has been published.
Boris Johnson is braced for a bruising day after receiving the report which is highly critical of the culture in No 10 which led to the repeated violations of Covid restrictions over the course of 2020 and 2021.
In her report on partygate Sue Gray said “many will be dismayed that behaviour of this kind took place on this scale at the heart of government” and “what happened fell well short” of the standards expected.
Boris Johnson brought the cheese and wine pictured in a garden gathering on May 15 2020 from his flat, according to the Sue Gray report.
She wrote that the British prime minister and advisers had a lengthy meeting in his office following a press conference before moving into the garden.
“The prime minister brought cheese and wine from his flat. The outdoor part of the meeting lasted for 40 minutes to an hour and they were briefly joined by the prime minister’s wife, during which time the photograph was taken. Martin Reynolds subsequently returned to the office to continue working,” she wrote.
“The prime minister remained in the garden until around 19.20. There is a further group of four individuals sitting at a table on the terrace. It has not been possible to identify these individuals, but there is no reason to suggest that this was anything other than a further work meeting.”
Sue Gray said she learned of multiple examples of “unacceptable” treatment of security and cleaning staff during her partygate investigation.
She wrote: “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.”
A No 10 special adviser warned the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, that it would be “helpful” if people avoided “walking around with bottles of wine” ahead of the Bring Your Own Booze party on May 20 2020 as it was taking place after a press conference, the Sue Gray report has said.
The report states: “[A] No 10 special adviser sent a message to Martin Reynolds by WhatsApp at 14.08 stating ‘Drinks this eve is a lovely idea so I’ve shared with the E & V team who are in the office. Just to flag that the press conference will probably be finishing around that time, so helpful if people can be mindful of that as speakers and cameras are leaving, not walking around waving bottles of wine etc.’
“Martin Reynolds replied ‘Will do my best!'”
Boris Johnson joined five special advisers in a meeting with “food and alcohol” in his Downing Street flat on the evening of the announcement of Dominic Cummings’ departure, Sue Gray found.
She conceded she only collected “limited” information because she had only begun gathering details on it when the Metropolitan Police launched an inquiry and did not return to it.
She wrote: “Following the announcement of the departure of Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain, a meeting was held in the No 10 flat from some time after 18.00 to discuss the handling of their departure. Five special advisers attended.
“The Prime Minister joined them at about 20.00. Food and alcohol were available. The discussion carried on later into the evening with attendees leaving at various points.”
She said she concluded “it was not appropriate or proportionate” to make further inquiries after the Met investigation.
Former communications chief Lee Cain warned Martin Reynolds and Dominic Cummings the Bring Your Own Booze party on May 20 2020 was “somewhat of a comms risk” and urged for the event to be cancelled, the Sue Gray report says.
According to the investigation, Mr Cain sent an email to Mr Cummings and Mr Reynolds which said: “I’m sure it will be fine – and I applaud the gesture – but a 200 odd person invitation for drinks in the garden of no 10 is somewhat of a comms risk in the current environment.”
The report adds: “Lee Cain says he subsequently spoke to Martin Reynolds and advised him that the event should be cancelled. Martin Reynolds does not recall any such conversation. In addition, Dominic Cummings has also said that he too raised concerns, in writing. We have not found any documentary evidence of this.”
Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister Martin Reynolds boasted “we seem to have got away with” the BYOB garden party in a WhatsApp message to a special adviser.
A No 10 special adviser thanked Mr Reynolds for “providing the wine”, saying it was “a very kind thing to do and I know everyone really appreciated it.”
In another WhatsApp on an unknown date to a special adviser, Mr Reynolds wrote: “Best of luck – a complete non story but better than them focusing on our drinks (which we seem to have got away with).”
A leaving do for No 10 communications chief Lee Cain occurred when “Wine Time Friday” in Downing Street would normally take place, the Sue Gray report into lockdown parties said.
Ms Gray said she was told the event on November 13 2020 was not pre-planned and that Boris Johnson had joined the gathering on his way to the Downing Street flat.
The Prime Minister made a leaving speech and was among those pictured drinking alcohol at the event.
Former proprietary and ethics chief Helen MacNamara provided a karaoke machine for a Cabinet Office gathering, Sue Gray’s report found.
The then-deputy Cabinet secretary provided it for the June 18 2020 event for the departure of a No 10 official.
The report read: “Helen MacNamara, deputy Cabinet secretary, attended for part of the evening and provided a karaoke machine which was set up in an adjoining office to the waiting room.”
Staff carried on drinking in No 10 until the early hours of the morning on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, the Sue Gray report said.
Two leaving dos took place in Downing Street on April 16 2021, including one for departing communications chief James Slack.
After the two events merged in the No 10 garden some staff began leaving around 9.30pm, having been encouraged by the No 10 custodian to use the rear exit, but some remained in the building and carried on drinking.
Exit logs indicated that some left after midnight and others between 1.45 and 2.45am with two staying on later with one leaving at 3.11 and and the last departing at 4.20.
It was reported that a child’s swing/slide in the garden was damaged in the course of the evening by people leaning on it.
The report is also expected to criticise Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, the UK's most senior civil servant. He will not be resigning and will not be sacked by Boris Johnson over partygate, the PA news agency understands.
As well as a 37-page report, the documents handed to No 10 include nine photos related to partygate incidents, including pictures of the Prime Minister, Mr Case and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
Mr Johnson will make a statement to MPs in the Commons later today.
He will also hold a press conference in Downing Street and address the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs who will have to decide whether the findings are sufficiently serious to warrant a push to oust him.
Boris Johnson is expected to tell the Commons he will “accept full responsibility for my failings” over partygate.
“I commissioned this report to set the record straight and allow us all to move on,” he is expected to tell MPs.
“I accept full responsibility for my failings. I am humbled by the whole experience.”
He will say he has learned the lessons from the situation.
Ms Gray’s report gives the clearest picture so far of events which led to widespread public anger, including the names of some of those who attended gatherings.
Officials affected by the inquiry, including those to be named, were written to ahead of its publication, allowing them to have a chance to respond before it was finalised.
Mr Case had a brief conversation with Mr Johnson in No 10 this morning during which he said he would not be quitting – and the Prime Minister was clear he would not be sacked.
Ahead of its release, a Cabinet ally of the Prime Minister said Mr Johnson accepted that there had been “failings” in Government and had apologised for what went wrong.
Environment Secretary George Eustice told Times Radio: “Clearly what happened in No 10 is a culture developed where they were working there, it was their place of work, and there were times when they would have a drink at the end of the day.
£That boundary between what was acceptable and what wasn’t got blurred and that was a mistake.
“Sue Gray highlighted that in her first interim report and I think she is almost certainly going to say more about that when her final report comes out.
“The Prime Minister himself has accepted that and recognises there were of course failings and therefore there’s got to be some changes to the way the place is run.”
According to an earlier, shortened version published in January, Ms Gray’s investigation analysed events from May 15 2020 to April 16 2021.
The full publication into the parties was sidelined as the Metropolitan Police conducted its own partygate probe, dubbed Operation Hillman.
The force concluded its investigation on May 19, with 126 fines being issued in total to 83 people.
Mr Johnson received one for an event held on his 56th birthday and was told he would face no further action over other gatherings covered by the inquiry.
Earlier this week, two new photographs apparently depicting separate gatherings at Downing Street were published.
Images obtained by ITV appeared to show Mr Johnson raising a toast and drinking wine at a gathering held to mark the departure of former spin doctor Lee Cain on November 13 2020.
The Mirror, meanwhile, published a picture showing a man standing at a table with nine bottles of wine and prosecco, which was claimed to have been taken at a gathering to mark the final press briefing by Mr Johnson’s former official spokesman James Slack on November 17 2020.
Last night, the BBC broadcast a Panorama programme which featured three anonymous individuals describing in detail what they witnessed at regular rule-breaking events during coronavirus restrictions.
They said events were “every week”, with invitations for press office drinks listed in the diary as “Wine-Time Friday”.
Yesterday, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan wrote to the acting head of the Metropolitan Police Sir Stephen House to explain the force’s decisions over partygate after pictures emerged of Mr Johnson drinking at a gathering for which he was not fined.