Britain’s ‘Partygate’ inquiry reveals details of illegal parties involving alcohol at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s home during the COVID lockdown
London — A person became ill after drinking too much. A “little argument” broke out between two others. After “excessive drinking” at an hour-long party, red wine was spilled on a wall and over boxes of copy paper.
Those were among the details in a long-awaited report released on Wednesday by the senior UK official tasked with investigating parties attended by senior government officials during Britain’s strict COVID-19 lockdowns.
Some of the 16 events investigated took place at 10 Downing Street – the official home and office of Prime Minister Boris Johnson – and the Cabinet Office and should not have taken place, investigator Sue Gray concluded in her 37-page report, adding that “other events weren’t allowed to develop like that”.
In April, Johnson was set to attend his birthday party, making him the first British Prime Minister to break the law during his tenure.
“What happened at many of these gatherings and how they unfolded was not in line with COVID guidelines at the time,” Gray said.
The report included 10 edited photos, including four showing Johnson himself attending a birthday celebration in his honor in June 2020 and four others showing him raising a glass at another event. Both events took place at his Downing Street office.
Allegations that Johnson and his associates were throwing illegal parties in 2020 and 2021 first surfaced last year, angering people across the country who have been barred from seeing friends and family — including to funerals — due to the COVID-19 restrictions , which Johnson’s government had imposed.
Gray said there were “faults in leadership and judgment” and that standards of behavior “fell far short of public expectations.”
She noted that recommending disciplinary action was outside the scope of her report, and she even credited Downing Street with beginning to address an office culture where some employees felt their concerns about certain behaviors were being voiced unable to comment on the work.
The scandal, dubbed “Partygate,” has sparked countless calls for Johnson to resign, but shortly after the report was published on Wednesday, the Prime Minister stood before British lawmakers and once again refused his resignation.
“I feel humiliated and have learned a lesson,” he told the House of Commons during the weekly TV program Prime Minister’s Questions.
Johnson added that some of the gatherings “clearly broke the rules…when.” People work very hard together every day… it can be difficult to draw the line… between work and socializing.”
He again insisted he had not knowingly broken any rules, urging his fellow lawmakers and the public to just move on.
“The best thing for our country now is to move forward together,” said the prime minister.
But critics say Johnson and members of his cabinet knowingly misled Parliament.
“They think it’s everyone else’s fault but theirs,” said Labor Party leader Kier Starmer. “The truth is they set the bar for it [Johnson’s] behave lower than the belly of a serpent.”
“Why wasn’t I at my grandmother’s bedside in her last days? Why did I let her die alone in this hospital?” asked Labor MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi. “Because of concerns about government restrictions.”
Some British political scientists and opposition MPs say Johnson has managed to stay in power through Partygate, partly because Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rising inflation have helped divert public attention.
Under Johnson’s Conservative Party rules, 15% of the party’s lawmakers (54 people) would need to support the move to force a vote of no confidence in him as party leader. It was unclear how many of Johnson’s “Tories,” as the Conservatives are also known, were willing to support a no-confidence vote on Wednesday.
If there is such a vote and Johnson were to lose it, an internal election within the Conservative Party would replace him as prime minister, and that would make a national election to challenge the Conservative leadership very likely.