Sue Gray report: What the document reveals about Boris Johnson and his role in the parties

Details show the prime minister attended multiple parties amid ‘failures of leadership’

Ashley Cowburn,Anna Isaac
Wednesday 25 May 2022 12:48
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<p>(Dominic Lipinski/PA)</p>

(Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Senior civil servant Sue Gray has published her long-awaited report into the Partygate scandal, warning top officials, including Boris Johnson, “must bear responsibility for this culture”.

Running over 37 pages and containing multiple photographs of the prime minister and senior officials, the report is highly critical of the culture in No 10, with repeated violations of Covid restrictions over the course of 2020 and 2021.

Her initial findings – published in January – did not single out individuals for criticism, but stressed there were “failures of leadership and judgement” in No 10 and the Cabinet Office.

It follows months of focus on rule-busting events at the heart of government, and a Metropolitan Police investigation that resulted in 126 fixed-penalty notices issued to those working in Downing Street, including the prime minister and chancellor, Rishi Sunak.

Here The Independent looks at Ms Gray’s report in detail.

What does the report say about Boris Johnson?

Ms Gray said the public would be “dismayed” by a series of breaches of Covid regulations in Downing Street, and stressed in her conclusions the events she investigated were “attended by leaders in government”.

“It is also the case that some of their involvement in some of these events was permitted given the attendance of senior leaders,” she added. “The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture”.

This, of course, is a clear reference to Mr Johnson, and chimes with testimonials provided to the BBC from No 10 staff, who suggested they felt the rule-busting events were condoned by the prime minister, who was “grabbing a glass for himself”.

BYOB

On specific events, the report makes clear the prime minister attended the “BYOB” gathering in the No 10 garden on 20 May, 2020, for “around 30 minutes  to thank staff”.

The prime minister is not singled out for criticism about his knowledge of BYOB drinks. But the email sent by senior aide Martin Reynolds and which was the subject of news reports features heavily.

Ms Gray’s report shows that staff had raised concerns about the party, and that Mr Reynolds, and former communications director, Lee Cain, was aware of it being a reputational risk. Mr Reynolds said in a message: “we seem to have got away” with holding a drinks’ party, the report reveals.

Mr Cain sent a message in response to the planning saying the event was “somewhat of a comms risk in the current environment”.

Another official said: “Just to flag that the press conference will probably be finishing around that time, so helpful if people can be mindful of that as speakers and cameras are leaving, not walking around waving bottles of Wine etc.”

Ms Gray notes in her report that Mr Cain said he “subsequently spoke to Martin Reynolds and advised him that the event should be cancelled, but Mr Reynolds “does not recall any such conversation”.

It notably does not record any details of the prime minister’s knowledge of, or his involvement with, discussions around the BYOB event.

Raising a glass

Images of the prime minister raising a glass of wine at the leaving drinks held for Mr Cain on 13 November 2020 have been splashed across newspapers in recent days.

Some of the images in the Sue Gray report published Wednesday show the prime minister attending multiple lockdown events

The event was not preplanned, Ms Gray said, and happened around the time that “Wine Time Friday”  - a reference to a standing invitation for Friday drinks in staffers’ diaries - “would normally be taking place”.

The prime minister and others drank wine at this event, the report notes, and it includes a range of photographs as evidence. The prime minister was not fined by the police for attending.

Downing Street flat party

Ms Gray was due to investigate not only Mr Cain’s leaving drinks, but a gathering in the prime ministers’ Downing Street flat afterwards on the same evening.

News reports revealed that Number10 staffers heard loud music, with some claiming it was from the band ABBA, blaring from the flat upstairs. It was the same day that top aide, Domminic Cummings, left his role as chief of staff at Downing Street.

However, Ms Gray said that the effort to obtain evidence of the flat party had “only just been commenced” when the Metropolitan Police started their investigation and, she said, she had to pause hers.

She does not name those who attended the gathering upstairs in Downing Street: “Following the announcement of the departure of Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain, a meeting was held in the No 10 flat from some time after 18.00 to discuss the handling of their departure. Five special advisers attended.

“The Prime Minister joined them at about 20.00. Food and alcohol were available. The discussion carried on later into the evening with attendees leaving at various points,” she added.

After the police closed their investigation, “I considered whether or not to conduct any further investigation into this event but concluded it was not appropriate or proportionate to do so,” Ms Gray said.

Birthday cake

Images also show the prime minister, cabinet secretary Simon Case, and chancellor Rishi Sunak attending an organised event for his birthday. They reveal sandwiches and cake and show Mr Johnson holding a can of beer.

This is the event for which Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak recieved fixed penalty notices. Mr Case, however, was not fined by the police. Ms Gray said that the prime minister and the chancellor were not aware of the event ahead of time.

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