PM to shake up No 10 after Gray shows 12 events under police investigation

Boris Johnson issued an apology to MPs as he fights to stay in office after the senior civil servant published a damning interim update.

Sam Blewett
Monday 31 January 2022 17:12
Boris Johnson (Victoria Jones/PA)
Boris Johnson (Victoria Jones/PA)

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.

A police officer outside the door to no 10 Downing Street on Monday (Jonathan Brady/PA)

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 about the “extensive” material she gathered because of the Metropolitan Police investigation.

Scotland Yard said it was reviewing more than 300 images and over 500 pages of information passed to officers by the Gray inquiry.

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.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street, Westminster, for the House of Commons (Jonathan Brady/PA)

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”.

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

Sue Gray

“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.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in