No Shades of GrayPrivileges Committee Report Exposes Boris Johnson’s ‘Partygate’ Lies
A damning new report blows apart the former Prime Minister’s claims to have been ‘stitched-up’ over the scandal of lockdown parties in Downing Street, reports Adam Bienkov
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Boris Johnson has spent the past 24 hours claiming to have been the victim of a “stitch-up” over ‘Partygate’, following news that Sue Gray, who led the Government’s internal inquiry into the scandal, has resigned from the civil service in order to take a new job with Labour Leader Keir Starmer.
The news caused a flurry of opportunistic fury among Johnson’s allies and supporters, who attempted to use the news to clear the former Prime Minister of all wrongdoing.
Within hours, these attempts have collapsed.
The publication of a new cross-party report into the scandal today, provides damning evidence that Johnson repeatedly misled MPs over what went on inside Number 10 during lockdown.
When news of the scandal first emerged at the end of 2021, Johnson told Parliament that there had been “no parties” in Downing Street and that “all rules” had been followed.
Today’s report provides extensive written and photographic evidence suggesting that he did, in fact, know that his denials were false at the time he made them.
In one part of the report, the committee reveals that it received evidence from whistleblowers confirming that, on one occasion, Johnson took part in an event inside Downing Street during lockdown, in which he told attendees that it was “probably the most unsocially distanced gathering in the UK right now”.
Previously unreleased messages revealed by the committee also show exasperated officials, including Johnson’s former director of communications, struggling to defend behaviour inside Number 10.
In one message, an apparently senior figure is reported to be “worried about leaks of PM having a piss up and to be fair I don’t think it’s unwarranted”.
In other messages, officials warn that leaks emerging from Downing Street at the time “blows another great gaping hole in the PM’s account doesn’t it?”
In a damning summary which appears to leave little room for manoeuvre for Johnson, the committee finds that despite his claims of ignorance about rule-breaking in Number 10, “the evidence strongly suggests that breaches of guidance would have been obvious to Mr Johnson at the time he was at the gatherings”.
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An investigation by the Metropolitan Police last year resulted in just one fine for Boris Johnson for breaking COVID rules.
However, today’s report suggests there may have been more extensive rule-breaking by the former Prime Minister and his colleagues.
According to the report, on more than one occasion, Johnson took part in what became known as “Wine Time Fridays” inside Downing Street’s press office during lockdown as well as other social activities. These events were apparently the tip of the iceberg.
“There is evidence that a culture of drinking in the workplace in some parts of No. 10 continued after COVID restrictions began”, the report states. “Events such as birthday parties and leaving parties for officials continued in No. 10 despite workplace guidance on social distancing and regulations imposing restrictions on gatherings.
“In particular, the events that continued included Friday evening drinks gatherings in the press office area. Mr Johnson is said by witnesses to have seen press office gatherings on his way to the No. 10 flat and to have occasionally joined these gatherings when his attendance had not been planned.”
The new details blow apart the emerging defence among Johnson and his allies about him somehow falling victim to a ‘plot’ by his opponents, secretly marshalled by Sue Gray.
Despite Johnson’s current claims, Gray held a reputation in Whitehall for actively limiting potential damage to the Government during internal inquiries. Tellingly, her inquiry stopped short of revealing much of what is contained in today’s Privileges Committee’s preliminary report.
One good example of this was the notorious “ABBA party” that reportedly took place inside Johnson’s private Downing Street flat during COVID restrictions. In her report, Gray declined to investigate the event, saying that it would not have been “appropriate or proportionate” to do so. This hardly seems like the actions of a secret anti-government plotter.
Indeed, at the time of her report, Johnson and his Cabinet ministers seemed keen to stress her impartiality and integrity, with ministers describing her as beyond reproach.
In the past 24 hours, former Culture Secretary and Johnson ally Nadine Dorries has made a series of claims about Gray’s supposed Labour leanings. However, this was not the position she took at the time.
Speaking to Sky News last January, she took a very different approach saying that “I know Sue Gray will be thorough and professional about her work… She is professional and formidable… She is known to be independent”.
Even after Gray released her report, Johnson himself refused to criticise her, saying he was “humbled” by her report’s findings, while his allies claimed she had somehow “vindicated” him.
For these reasons, attempting to convince the public that the same report Johnson previously welcomed was actually part of some long-planned Labour-led conspiracy was always going to be a difficult ask.
However, the release of the Privileges Committee’s damning report today makes it all but impossible.