Inquiry reveals details of boozy parties at UK leader’s home during COVID lockdown

London — One person got sick after drinking too much. A “minor altercation” broke out between two others. Spilled red wine on a wall and on boxes of photocopy paper after “binge drinking” at an hour-long party.

Those were some of the details in a long-awaited report released Wednesday by the senior British official who has been tasked with investigating parties attended by senior government officials during the UK’s strict COVID-19 lockdowns.

Some of the 16 events under investigation took place at 10 Downing Street, the home and official office of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and the Cabinet Office, and should not have been allowed to take place, researcher Sue Gray concluded in her 37-page report, adding that “other events should not have been allowed to unfold as they did.”

In April, Johnson went to attend his birthday party, making him the first British prime minister to break the law while in office.

“What happened in a lot of these meetings and how they played out was not in line with COVID guidance at the time,” Gray said.

The report included 10 redacted photos, including four showing Johnson himself attending a birthday party in his honor in June 2020, and another four showing him raising a glass at another event. Both events were held in his Downing Street office.

Allegations that Johnson and his staff enjoyed illegal parties in 2020 and 2021 first surfaced last year, angering people across the country who were barred from seeing friends and family, including for funerals, under the COVID-19 restrictions that had been imposed by the Johnson administration.

Gray said there were “failures of leadership and judgment” and that standards of behavior “fell far below” public expectations.

He noted that recommending any disciplinary action was outside the scope of his report, and even credited Downing Street for beginning to address an office culture in which some staff felt they were unable to raise concerns about certain behaviors at work. .

The scandal, dubbed “Partygate,” has prompted countless calls for Johnson’s resignation, but shortly after the report was released on Wednesday, the prime minister appeared before British lawmakers and issued another refusal to resign.

“I am honored and I have learned a lesson,” he told the House of Commons during the weekly “Prime Minister’s Questions” television programme.

Johnson added that while some of the meetings “clearly violated the rules … when people work very hard together, day in and day out … it can be difficult to draw the line … between work and socializing.”

He insisted again that he had not knowingly broken any rules and urged fellow lawmakers and the public to simply move on.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson returns to 10 Downing Street after answering questions in Parliament, in London, on May 25, 2022. / Credit: TOBY MELVILLE/REUTERS

“The best thing now for our country is to move forward together,” the prime minister said.

But critics say Johnson and his cabinet members knowingly misled parliament.

“They think it’s everyone’s fault but theirs,” said opposition leader Kier Starmer of the Labor Party. “The truth is that they set the bar for [Johnson’s] conduct lower than the belly of a serpent”.

“Why wasn’t I at my grandmother’s bedside during her last days? Why did I let her die alone in that hospital?” asked Labor MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi. “Due to concerns about government restrictions.”

Some British political analysts and opposition lawmakers say Johnson has managed to cling to power through Partygate in part because Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rising inflation have helped divert public attention.

Under Johnson’s Conservative Party rules, it would take 15% of party lawmakers (54 people) backing the measure to force a no-confidence vote on him as party leader. It was unclear how many of Johnson’s fellow ‘Tories’, as Conservatives are also known, were willing to back a no-confidence vote from Wednesday.

If there were such a vote and Johnson lost it, he would be replaced as prime minister through a Conservative party internal election, and that would make a national election to contest the Conservative leadership position very likely.

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