PM to shake up No 10 after Gray shows 12 events under police investigation
Boris Johnson promised a shake-up of No 10 after it emerged police are investigating at least 12 events across Government for Covid breaches including the Prime Minister’s birthday celebration and a gathering in his Downing Street flat.
The Prime Minister apologised on Monday and insisted “I get it and I will fix it” as he faced fresh calls to resign after Sue Gray’s limited inquiry criticised “failures of leadership and judgment”.
But he repeatedly refused to back calls, including from senior Tory MPs, to publish the full unredacted report from the senior civil servant after she conceded she had to pare it back while the Metropolitan Police investigate.
Ms Gray criticised “failures of leadership and judgment” in No 10 and the Cabinet Office while England was under coronavirus restrictions in 2020 and 2021.
But the saga was far from over for the embattled Prime Minister, with the senior civil servant saying she was unable to publish meaningful findings because of the Metropolitan Police investigation.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer demanded Mr Johnson publish a full Gray inquiry in the future, as he said the British people believe the Prime Minister should “do the decent thing and resign” but will not because he is “a man without shame”.
Giving a statement to MPs an hour after the Gray update was published, the Prime Minister said: “Firstly, I want to say sorry – and I’m sorry for the things we simply didn’t get right and also sorry for the way this matter has been handled.
“It’s no use saying this or that was within the rules and it’s no use saying people were working hard. This pandemic was hard for everyone.”
He added: “I get it, and I will fix it. I want to say to the people of this country I know what the issue is.”
Mr Johnson insisted he was “making changes” to Downing Street and the Cabinet Office, including by creating an Office of the Prime Minister with a permanent secretary to lead No 10.
During a chaotic debate, former Cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell told Mr Johnson he “no longer enjoys my support”.
It was the first major signal that the disquiet among the Tory backbenchers was swelling, with the Prime Minister facing the threat of a vote of no confidence.
Former prime minister Theresa May questioned whether Mr Johnson either did not “read the rules”, understand them, or “didn’t think the rules applied to No 10”.
Senior Conservatives including former chief whip Mark Harper joined Sir Keir in calling for a full Gray inquiry to be published.
But Mr Johnson batted away calls by telling MPs they must await the police inquiry, a move that Tory backbencher Tobias Ellwood indicated may threaten to drain support further when he tweeted “if the PM fails to publish the report in full then he will no longer have my support”.
The Prime Minister even refused to tell the Commons whether he was at a party in his No 11 flat on November 13 2020.
Officers were investigating that event in the official residence shared with wife Carrie Johnson, on the night former aides Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain left their roles.
Police were also investigating the June 19 2020 event in the Cabinet Room at No 10 to mark the Prime Minister’s 56th birthday where Mr Johnson was “ambushed by cake”, in the words of minister Conor Burns, although he later insisted there was no cake.
Mrs Johnson reportedly organised the surprise get-together complete with a chorus of “happy birthday” and interior designer Lulu Lytle also admitted attending while carrying out the lavish and controversial work to their Downing Street flat.
The May 20 2020 “bring your own booze” event in the No 10 garden which Mr Johnson attended for 25 minutes, apparently believing it was a work event, is also under investigation.
Ms Gray’s limited report listed 16 events she examined as part of her inquiry, but she said only four of those were not now being investigated by the police.
“Unfortunately, this necessarily means that I am extremely limited in what I can say about those events and it is not possible at present to provide a meaningful report setting out and analysing the extensive factual information I have been able to gather,” she said.
But her conclusions about the wider culture within the “heart of Government” were scathing.
“Against the backdrop of the pandemic, when the Government was asking citizens to accept far-reaching restrictions on their lives, some of the behaviour surrounding these gatherings is difficult to justify,” she said.
“At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of Government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time.”
There was “too little thought” given to what was happening in the country at the time and “failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times”.
“Some of the events should not have been allowed to take place.
“Other events should not have been allowed to develop as they did.”
The Downing Street garden was used as an extension of the office in a “sensible” precaution against the spread of Covid-19, Ms Gray said, but “was also used for gatherings without clear authorisation or oversight” and “this was not appropriate”.
The report also hinted at the drinking culture within Government, media reports have suggested “wine time Fridays” were a feature in No 10 during the pandemic.
Ms Gray’s findings did not mention these reports but she said: “The excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time.
“Steps must be taken to ensure that every Government department has a clear and robust policy in place covering the consumption of alcohol in the workplace.”