Boris: It was 'my duty' to go to lockdown parties at No10 amid Gray report fallout

25 May 2022, 11:34 | Updated: 25 May 2022, 17:53

  • Sue Gray’s full report into lockdown-busting parties at No10 published
  • New pictures emerge of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case at lockdown breaching events
  • Boris Johnson told journalists it was his "duty" to go to leaving dos
  • He apologised to the nation again as the report was published
  • At party on June 18 2020 someone vomited and two people got into an ‘altercation’
  • At another party a member of staff accidentally triggered a police panic alarm
  • Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister boasted "we seem to have got away with" after BYOB garden party
  • Labour and Lib Dems renew calls for PM to stand down

By Asher McShane

Boris Johnson has said he believed it was his "duty" to appear at lockdown leaving parties at Downing Street.

The Prime Minister spent Wednesday grovelling over the fallout from Sue Gray’s report into Downing Street events during Covid restrictions as he tries to cling on to his job.

He apologised to the nation again and in a press conference, he said: "OK, I was in the Cabinet room for a short period, standing up, at my desk, on June 19 2020 and some people came in to congratulate me on my birthday.

"Now, there weren’t very many of them, it didn’t occur to me then that this was a breach of the rules, I'll be frank with you, it didn’t occur to me. That’s just the way it was."

He spoke as Partygate photos were released with senior civil servant Ms Gray’s report, including one of him toasting the departure of Lee Cain, the former communications director.

"Similarly, when I was speaking to colleagues about the departure of another SPAD [special adviser] or Government adviser or an official it didn’t occur to me that this was anything except what was my duty to do as Prime Minister during a pandemic.

"That’s why I did it."

The report found events saw people drinking excessively, with one individual being sick after "excessive alcohol consumption” following a June 18 leaving event, and two others got into a "minor altercation".

The morning after a party on December 18, a cleaner reported finding red wine had been spilled up the wall and on a number of boxes of photocopier paper.

Martin Reynolds, the former principal private secretary to the Prime Minister, in a message to a special adviser, referred to the "BYOB" party in the Downing Street party on May 20 and said: "We seem to have got away with [it]".

The Archbishop of Canterbury reacted to Sue Gray's report by saying "we need to rediscover" good standards in public life.

In a statement, the archbishop said "we need to be able to trust our national institutions" in times of trouble.

"Sue Gray's report shows that culture, behaviour and standards in public life really matter," he said.

"We need to be able to trust our national institutions, particularly in times of great trouble."

He added that standards in public life are "the glue that holds us together".

"Jesus commands us to serve the most vulnerable and those in need," he said.

"To help achieve this, we must recover the principles of mutual flourishing and the common good in the way we are governed.

"Standards in public life are the glue that holds us together - we need to rediscover them and abide by them."

Following the release of the full report, Scottish Tory leader Douglass Ross said Mr Johnson should go after the Ukraine war is over.

Another Tory broke rank to call for him to go.

"Following the publication of the full Sue Gray report, I feel it is now in the public interest for the Prime Minister to resign," said Julian Sturdy.

Mr Johnson addressed MPs, saying he takes "full responsibility."

He admitted he attended some events to thank staff but accepted that events "went on longer than necessary".

He said: “I had no knowledge of those subsequent proceedings because I simply wasn’t there….I have been as surprised and disappointed as anyone in this House.”

New pictures have emerged of Boris Johnson at lockdown busting Downing St parties
New pictures have emerged of Boris Johnson at lockdown busting Downing St parties. Picture: LBC

He told MPs: "I want to begin today by renewing my apology to the House, to the whole country, for the short lunchtime gathering on June 19, 2020 in the Cabinet Room, during which I stood at my place at the Cabinet table and for which I received a fixed penalty notice.

"I also want to say above all that I take full responsibility for everything that took place on my watch. Sue Gray's report has emphasised that it is up to the political leadership in Number 10 to take ultimate responsibility and, of course, I do."

Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer poured scorn on the PM's apology, saying: "The game is up."

"You cannot be a lawmaker and a lawbreaker and it's time to pack his bags," he told the Commons.

"Only then can the Government function again.

"Only then can the rot be carved out, only then can we restore the dignity of that great office and the democracy that it represents."

In her full report, Sue Gray said many of the events she looked into "should not have been allowed to happen" and blasted the culture at the heart of government during the pandemic.

"The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture," she said.

Ms Gray issued a damning indictment of the culture at No10 during the pandemic, saying: "The whole of the country rose to the challenge.

READ IN FULL: Sue Gray's much-anticipated final Partygate report

June 19 2020; a gathering in the Cabinet Room in No10 Downing Street on the Prime Minister's birthday.
June 19 2020: A gathering in the Cabinet Room in No10 Downing Street on the Prime Minister's birthday. Picture: Cabinet Office

"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."

She criticised "serious failings" that allowed the parties to take place and a culture of "excessive drinking."

She also said some staff "wanted to raise concerns about behaviours they witnessed at work but at times felt unable to do so".

June 19 2020; a gathering in the Cabinet Room in No10 Downing Street on the Prime Minister's birthday.
June 19 2020: Boris Johnson next to Rishi Sunak at the PM's birthday gathering. Picture: Cabinet Office

In a series of new images released in the full report, Mr Johnson can be seen in the Cabinet Room for his birthday party celebration in June 2020.

In further images, he can be seen at a November 13 2020 leaving party for departing adviser Lee Cain. He is seen holding a glass, raising it up in a toast and smiling broadly. On the table near him can be seen several open bottles of alcohol.

In the conclusion of her report, Ms Gray says her initial findings from her interim report "still stand".

November 13 2020: a gathering in No10 Downing Street on the departure of special adviser Lee Cain
November 13 2020: a gathering in No10 Downing Street on the departure of special adviser Lee Cain. Picture: Cabinet Office

"Whatever the initial intent, what took place at many of these gatherings and the way in which they developed was not in line with Covid guidance at the time.

"Even allowing for the extraordinary pressures officials and advisers were under, the factual findings of this report illustrate some attitudes and behaviours inconsistent with that guidance."

Read more: Sunak to unveil 'cost-of-living rescue package' the day after Sue Gray publishes report

Officials impacted by the Gray 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 Johnson is scheduled to address the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories on Wednesday. He is also due to address the Commons after PMQs.

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 Mr Johnson's former official spokesman James Slack on November 17 2020.

On Tuesday evening, 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".

On Tuesday, 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.