Boris’s moment of truth on Partygate: Sue Gray’s long-awaited report is FINALLY published amid fears key aides will have to QUIT – before PM faces a mauling from angry MPs in the Commons at 3.30pm
- Boris Johnson still facing Tory unrest after allegations of lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street
- Top civil servant Sue Gray has delivered report into claims of rule breaches, but made clear watered down
- The report will be published before PM makes statement to MPs at 3.30pm, amid fears aides will have to quit
- Tory temperature seems to have cooled and police ordered report to be watered down pending probe
- Ex-No10 official Nikka da Costa said Mr Johnson stopped plans to allow bereaved families to ‘bubble’
Boris Johnson is facing a moment of truth on Partygate today as the Sue Gray report was finally published – and the PM will run the gauntlet of a Commons grilling within hours.
The top civil servant’s findings have been released, although sources stressed that it is not her full conclusions due to a request from police.
It is thought Ms Gray wants to do a fuller version when Scotland Yard has completed its work – after police asked for ‘minimal reference’ to incidents under criminal investigation – but No10 is so far refusing to commit to that.
Mr Johnson has released the watered down ‘as received’ barely an hour before he makes a Commons statement at 3.30pm. He will then address a meeting of the Conservative parliamentary party in Downing Street at 6.30pm.
Ms Gray’s conclusions state: ‘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.
‘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.
‘At times it seems there was too little thought given to what was happening across the country in considering the appropriateness of some of these gatherings, the risks they presented to public health and how they might appear to the public. There were 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 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.
‘The use of the garden at No 10 Downing Street should be primarily for the Prime Minister and the private residents of No 10 and No 11 Downing Street. During the pandemic it was often used as an extension of the workplace as a more covid secure means of holding group meetings in a ventilated space. This was a sensible measure that staff appreciated, but the garden was also used for gatherings without clear authorisation or oversight. This was not appropriate. Any official access to the space, including for meetings, should be by invitation only and in a controlled environment. ‘
Rumours have been swirling at Westminster that key aides will have to fall on their swords, but Mr Johnson is said to feel ‘reassured’ that the threat of a successful coup against him by Tory backbenchers has receded.
The crisis over Ukraine also looks like overshadowing the Partygate saga, with the premier visiting the country tomorrow and demanding Vladimir Putin steps back from the brink of invasion.
He has been assisted by fledgling signs of a recovery in the polls – although the Conservatives are still trailing Labour.
And has emerged that police are likely to hand out any fixed penalty notices to lockdown breachers without making their names public – an approach that could limit embarrassment.
Mr Johnson’s former adviser Will Walden said he had ‘used up quite a lot of lives’ on Partygate, but suggested events had ‘inadvertently’ fallen well for him.
But there is still the potential for the situation to flare up dramatically, with Ms Gray understood to have been told about a ‘victory party’ held by friends of Mr Johnson’s wife Carrie in the No11 flat to mark the resignation of Dominic Cummings.
Mr Johnson has also come under fire from an ex-No10 official who says he vetoed plans to allow bereaved families to set up bubbles with their close relatives when restrictions began to ease last year.
Asked on a visit to Essex about fears the inquiry will be a ‘whitewash’ because of the changes, Mr Johnson said: ‘You are going to have to wait and see both what Sue says and of course what the Met says.’
The Prime Minister was also questioned about reportedly telling MPs privately he thinks he has done nothing wrong.
‘You’re going to have to wait and see the outcome of the investigations, but of course I stick absolutely to what I’ve said in the past,’ he told reporters at a freeport in Tilbury.
In other developments during more political chaos in Westminster:
- Mr Johnson is expected to visit Ukraine tomorrow amid desperate efforts to defuse the standoff with Russia over Ukraine;
- New government sanctions are being unveiled that could target oligarchs linked to Vladimir Putin;
- Former Cabinet minister Lord Frost has dismissed suggestions he could become the PM’s new chief of staff in a ‘reset’ after the Partygate report, saying he does not agree with the national insurance hike;
- Dominic Cummings has stepped up his attack on Mr Johnson branding him a ‘babbling f***wit’ and saying getting him out of No10 is like ‘fixing the drains’.
An increasingly-confident Boris Johnson is bracing for the Sue Gray report today as it emerged that Downing Street lockdown breakers might never be identified by police
Sue Gray is believed to be on the verge of delivering her findings on Partygate to the PM, who has promised to publish them and make a Commons statement soon afterwards
A protest outside Downing Street in advance of the Partygate report, which is being published later
Ministers including Tory chairman Oliver Dowden have been going in and out of Downing Street today as tension rises
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (left) and Environment Secretary George Eustice were also in No10 amid signs of frantic activity behind the scenes
The issues that could take the heat off Boris over Partygate
Russia threatening to invade Ukraine
Vladimir Putin has massed forces on the border of Ukraine, with the UK and US convinced an invasion is imminent.
Boris Johnson is expected to speak to Mr Putin later, and visit the region himself imminently.
Compulsory Covid vaccination for NHS staff
The government is preparing to U-turn on making vaccination mandatory for NHS staff.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid is due to make an announcement later this afternoon.
The topic has been a flashpoint with libertarian Tory MPs, and it will be a popular shift.
Cost of living crisis
Mr Johnson and Rishi Sunak have been desperately putting together a package that could ease the pain of soaring inflation and energy bills for families.
The PM and Chancellor finally seemed to kill off the idea of delaying the £12billion national insurance hike beyond April over the weekend.
Ministers have also played down the prospect of a ct to VAT on energy bills. But there is set to be more targeted support for the poorest households.
The PM’s official spokesman said: ‘We can confirm that Sue Gray has provided an update to the Prime Minister.
‘The findings will be published on gov.uk and made available in the House of Commons library this afternoon and the Prime Minister will then provide a statement to the House after people have had the opportunity to read and consider the findings.’
Downing Street said it will publish the Gray report in the full form it has received from the inquiry team, but did not commit to publish a fuller version in the future.
Asked why the release has so far been characterised as an ‘update’, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘It’s a reflection of the fact there is an ongoing police investigation and the Met have been clear about what their expectations are about what can or cannot be put in the public domain while that’s ongoing.’
Asked whether Ms Gray will seek to publish more in the future, he said: ‘Obviously we will need to consider what might be appropriate and we are discussing with the Cabinet Office team in due course about what might be appropriate, but at the moment it is unclear how the ongoing Met Police investigation might interact with any further work on that. But obviously it’s something we will want to keep under review.’
Pressed on whether the public will see a fuller report after the Met investigation, the spokesman said: ‘That’s one of the things I can’t confirm at this point simply because we need to discuss that with the Met and others about what is suitable.’
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: ‘We can confirm that Sue Gray has provided an update on her investigations to the Prime Minister.’
Will Walden, who advised Mr Johnson during his time as London mayor, said Mr Johnson had ‘used up quite a lot of lives’ on Partygate but the report had ‘landed pretty well for him’.
He told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One programme: ‘It’s a mess. It’s probably bad for democracy but inadvertently good for the PM.
‘He’s used up quite a lot of lives over this but I think it’s landed pretty well for him.
‘I think he has the benefit of seeing what appears to be a heavily redacted report, he doesn’t have long to respond but he’s responding to frankly what is going to be not a lot. And I suspect that can only help him.’
Nikka da Costa, Mr Johnson’s former director of legislative affairs, voiced disbelief at No10 refusing to confirm that Ms Gray’s full report will be published at a later date.
She predicted that if Downing Street tried to block the release Labour would call an Opposition Day debate.
‘Then MPs will be whipped to oppose? And how will that be portrayed publicly? What is the strategy behind this line?’ she tweeted.
Ms da Costa wrote in The Times overnight that the PM had shot down plans to allow bereaved families to set up bubbles with their close relatives when last year’s lockdown restrictions began to ease over fears it would ‘send the wrong message to the public’.
Costa said the veto came just weeks before Downing Street staff held two booze-filled leaving parties on the night before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.
The former No10 official said she was ‘angry’ when she hears allies of Mr Johnson to ‘get a sense of proportion’ in response to allegations of No10 parties.
‘If we in No 10 could be that hard-hearted because we thought it was the right thing to do, then those involved in those kinds of decisions also owed it to the country to be as hard on themselves and their own conduct,’ Costa wrote.
She added: ‘If No 10 failed in that as a collective, as it seems clear, it needs to be recognised as a failure of and by those at the top.’
The Mail on Sunday revealed that as part of her inquiry into socialising in Mr Johnson’s No 10 flat, Ms Gray has been told about a ‘victory party’ held by friends of Carrie.
The bash allegedly happened on the night of November 13, 2020, after Dominic Cummings had left with his belongings in a box.
He had allegedly lost a power struggle with the then Ms Symonds and other advisers.
‘There was the sound of lots of banging and dancing and drinking, and a number of Abba tracks – including a triumphalist Winner Takes It All,’ a source said.
A spokesman for Mrs Johnson said: ‘It is totally untrue to suggest Mrs Johnson held a party in the Downing Street flat on November 13, 2020.’
Nikka da Costa, Mr Johnson’s former director of legislative affairs, voiced disbelief at No10 refusing to confirm that Ms Gray’s full report will be published at a later date
There are fledgling signs of a Tory recovery in the polls – although the Conservatives are still trailing Labour
In the latest twist of the lockdown party drama enveloping Westminster, it emerged that Miss Gray’s probe has been told about alleged messages from Carrie Johnson offering to organise a cake for the PM’s 56th birthday party in June 2020
Mr Johnson arriving back at Downing Street yesterday after spending the weekend at his Chequers residence
Parties across Whitehall: A full list of all the Covid rule-busting claims
Boris Johnson and the Government have been repeatedly rocked in recent months by a stream of allegations of Covid rule-busting parties held across Whitehall.
Here is a list of the alleged gatherings, some of which have already been admitted to:
– May 15, 2020: Downing Street garden party
The PM, his wife Carrie, former chief adviser Dominic Cummings, and Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, were all pictured, in a photograph leaked to The Guardian, sitting around a table in the Number 10 garden, with wine and cheese in front of them.
Some 15 other people were also in the photograph, but the Prime Minister has insisted this was a work meeting, saying: ‘Those were meetings of people at work, talking about work.’
– May 20, 2020: BYOB garden party
The revelation came in an email, leaked to ITV, from Mr Reynolds to more than 100 Downing Street employees inviting them to ‘bring your own booze’ for an evening gathering.
The PM has admitted attending the gathering, but insisted he believed it was a work event which could ‘technically’ have been within the rules.
– June 19, 2020: Birthday party for the PM
A Downing Street spokesman admitted staff ‘gathered briefly’ in the Cabinet Room after a meeting. A report from ITV News suggested up to 30 people attended and the PM was presented with a cake.
The broadcaster suggested the PM’s wife, Carrie Johnson, had organised the surprise get-together. Reports said Lulu Lytle, the interior designer behind lavish renovations of Mr and Mrs Johnson’s No 10 flat, briefly attended while undertaking work in Downing Street.
ITV News also reported that later the same evening, family and friends were hosted upstairs to further celebrate the Prime Minister’s 56th birthday in his official residence.
Number 10 said: ‘This is totally untrue. In line with the rules at the time the Prime Minister hosted a small number of family members outside that evening.’
– November 13, 2020: Leaving party for senior aide
According to reports at the time, Mr Johnson gave a leaving speech for Lee Cain, his departing director of communications and a close ally of Mr Cummings.
– November 13, 2020: Johnsons’ flat party
There are allegations that the Prime Minister’s then fiancee hosted parties in their flat, with one such event said to have taken place on November 13, the night Dominic Cummings departed Number 10.
A spokesman for Mrs Johnson has called the claim ‘total nonsense’.
– November 25, 2020: Treasury drinks
A Treasury spokesman told The Times that a number of staff had gone into the office to work on the Spending Review.
He said: ‘We have been made aware that a small number of those staff had impromptu drinks around their desks after the event.’
– November 27, 2020: Second staff leaving do
The Mirror reported that the PM gave a farewell speech to an aide at the end of November while the lockdown in England was still in place.
Other reports have said the leaving do was for Cleo Watson, a senior Downing Street aide and ally of Mr Cummings.
– December 10, 2020: Department for Education party
The DfE confirmed a social event happened after The Mirror reported that former education secretary Gavin Williamson threw a party and delivered a short speech at an event organised at his department’s Whitehall headquarters.
A spokesman acknowledged that ‘it would have been better not to have gathered in this way at that particular time’.
– December 11, 2020: Wine fridge delivered to Downing Street for staff’s ‘wine-time Fridays’
A fridge with the capacity for 34 wine bottles was delivered through the back door of Number 10.
According to sources cited by The Mirror, the fridge became necessary for staff’s ‘wine-time Fridays’ which were held throughout lockdown, with the Prime Minister allegedly encouraging the parties to help aides ‘let off steam’.
The regular social gatherings were reported to be particularly popular among staff between autumn 2020 and spring 2020 when staff were ‘fatigued’ with tough Covid restrictions that banned socialising.
Mr Johnson was said to have attended a ‘handful’ of these gatherings.
– December 14, 2020: Party featuring Tory London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey and staff
Shaun Bailey apologised ‘unreservedly’ for attending the gathering at Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) organised by staff on his campaign team.
‘It was a serious error of judgment at a time when Londoners were making immense sacrifices to keep us all safe and I regret it wholeheartedly,’ he tweeted.
He quit his role chairing the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee after The Mirror published a picture showing him at the gathering.
– December 15, 2020: Downing Street quiz
The PM appeared on contestants’ screens at the quiz but has insisted he broke no rules.
An image published by the Sunday Mirror showed Mr Johnson flanked by two colleagues, one draped in tinsel and another wearing a Santa hat, in Number 10.
Downing Street admitted Mr Johnson ‘briefly’ attended the quiz after the photographic evidence emerged but insisted it was a virtual event.
– December 16, 2020: Department for Transport party
The Mirror reported that senior civil servants were ‘boozing and dancing’ at the event, allegedly planned by staff from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ office.
A DfT spokesman said: ‘Fewer than a dozen staff who were working in the office had a low-key, socially distanced gathering in the large open-plan office after work on December 16, where food and drink was consumed.
‘We recognise this was inappropriate and apologise for the error of judgment.’
– December 17, 2020: Cabinet Office ‘Christmas party’
A number of outlets reported that a gathering was held in the Cabinet Office on December 17.
The Times reported that Cabinet Secretary Simon Case attended the party in room 103 of the Cabinet Office, that it had been organised by a private secretary in Mr Case’s team, and that it was included in digital calendars as: ‘Christmas party!’
The Cabinet Office confirmed a quiz took place, but a spokesman said: ‘The Cabinet Secretary played no part in the event, but walked through the team’s office on the way to his own office.’
– December 17, 2020: Leaving drinks for former Covid Taskforce head
The former director-general of the Government’s Covid Taskforce said she was ‘truly sorry’ over an evening gathering in the Cabinet Office for her leaving drinks during coronavirus restrictions days before Christmas in 2020.
Kate Josephs, who is now chief executive of Sheffield City Council, said she gathered with colleagues who were in the office that day and added that she was co-operating with the probe by senior civil servant Sue Gray.
– December 18, 2020: Christmas party at Downing Street
The claim that kicked off the rule-breaking allegations is that a party was held for Downing Street staff on December 18.
Officials and advisers reportedly made speeches, enjoyed a cheese board, drank together and exchanged Secret Santa gifts, although the PM is not thought to have attended.
Mr Johnson’s spokeswoman, Allegra Stratton, quit after being filmed joking about it with fellow aides at a mock press conference.
– Run-up to Christmas 2020
The Mirror reported that Mr Johnson attended a leaving do for defence adviser Captain Steve Higham before Christmas 2020.
The newspaper alleged the Prime Minister made a speech but Number 10 did not respond to a request for comment and the Ministry of Defence declined.
– April 16, 2021: Drinks and dancing the night before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral
The Telegraph reported that advisers and civil servants gathered after work for two separate events on the Friday night.
They were to mark the departure of James Slack, Mr Johnson’s former director of communications, and one of the Prime Minister’s personal photographers.
Mr Slack, who left his Number 10 role to become deputy editor-in-chief of The Sun newspaper, said he was sorry for the ‘anger and hurt’ caused by his leaving do, while Downing Street apologised to the Queen.
The Telegraph quoted a Number 10 spokesman as saying Mr Johnson was not in Downing Street that day and is said to have been at Chequers.
The newspaper reported accounts from witnesses who said alcohol was drunk and guests danced to music, adding that it had been told that around 30 people attended both events combined.
Cummings brands Boris a ‘babbling f***wit’ who hasn’t ‘got the balls’ to stand up to wife Carrie in latest brutal attack
Dominic Cummings has branded Boris Johnson a ‘babbling f***wit’ who has not ‘got the balls’ to stand up to his ‘forceful’ wife Carrie.
In a rare interview, the former No10 chief swiped that the PM saw himself as a ‘king’ or ‘Roman emperor’ and only cared about big infrastructure projects that would act as monuments to himself.
But he swiped that in reality the Tory leader was a ‘f***wit’ obsessed with ‘babbling’ to the media rather than ‘important’ policy problems.
Mr Cummings said Mrs Johnson had been running a ‘disastrous’ shadow briefing regime from their No11 flat, and his former boss was unable to tell her ‘I’m prime minister’.
The intervention, in an interview with New York magazine, came as Mr Johnson awaits the verdict of top civil servant Sue Gray and the police on Partygate allegations.
Mr Cummings has been instrumental in stoking the crisis for the PM, having highlighted a series of potential lockdown breaches at No10.
He told the magazine that he viewed getting rid of Mr Johnson as ‘an unpleasant but necessary job’. ‘It’s like sort of fixing the drains,’ he said.
The maverick ex-adviser said Mr Johnson had been useful for delivering Brexit and defeating Jeremy Corbyn in 2019.
‘But after that what’s the point of him and Carrie just rattling around in there and f***ing everything up for everyone and not doing the job properly?’ he added.
Downing Street declined to comment on the latest attack from Mr Johnson’s former ally.
The Metropolitan Police could now investigate the party as part of its probe, and call on Mrs Johnson to provide written evidence.
Meanwhile, it has been claimed that a tipsy Downing Street staffer boasted to police that they ‘we’re the only ones allowed to party’ as they left one gathering.
A witness is claimed to have reported the jibe to Ms Gray’s inquiry, according to the Sun.
Last week the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick announced officers have launched a criminal inquiry after assessing a dossier of evidence compiled by Ms Gray.
The police inquiry is expected to focus on eight of the parties looked at by Ms Gray.
But the force has clarified it is looking at potential Covid breaches that are dealt with by fixed-term penalty notices.
The Times highlighted that staff are unlikely to be publicly identified if they accept a penalty notice and do not contest the breach in court.
Under police guidance, individuals are only named if they are charged and expected to appear in court.
Scotland Yard admitted last week it had asked Whitehall’s ethics tsar to ‘water down’ her document while the force conducts a criminal probe that may not conclude for months.
The highly controversial move has seen Metropolitan Police chief Cressida Dick accused of ‘an abuse of power’ by ‘interfering’ with the investigation and demanding that Miss Gray remove key details which are central to the row over ‘parties’ in No10.
It is understood that the senior civil servant will give Mr Johnson a redacted version of her report, rather than wait for the Met’s inquiry to end.
But Conservative MPs are now urging Ms Gray to make her report available to the public in full, in a bid to ‘end this madness’.
Meanwhile, Labour called for Mr Johnson to finally ‘end the circus’ over partygate.
Shadow minister Lisa Nandy said: ‘There are a lot of bereaved families, there are a lot of people who made huge sacrifices who deserve to hear the truth from the Prime Minister.
‘If he won’t put an end to this circus then that report has to come out in full so that people can judge for themselves.’
Despite the apparent easing of the crisis for Mr Johnson, leadership jockeying is in full swing.
Tom Tugendhat has become the first Conservative MP to declare his intention to run in a leadership contest.
Asked in a Times Radio interview whether he would like to be Prime Minister, the Tonbridge & Malling MP said: ‘It would be a huge privilege.’
He added: ‘It’s up to all of us to put ourselves forward. And it’s up to the electorate, in the first case parliamentary colleagues, and in the second case the party, to choose.’
The former soldier added: ‘There isn’t a vacancy at the moment’, and insisted he had not been canvassing support.
Jeremy Hunt, the former Foreign Secretary who came second to Mr Johnson in the 2019 leadership contest, recently said his ambition to be leader had not ‘completely vanished’.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss are expected to be the frontrunners in a contest, with other potential contenders including Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, Home Secretary Priti Patel, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi and former Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt.
Boris Johnson will visit Ukraine TOMORROW in show of support for nation as he urges Vladimir Putin to ‘step back from the brink’ of invasion
Boris Johnson will visit Ukraine tomorrow in a show of support for the country – after warning Vladimir Putin to ‘step back from the brink’ of invasion.
Downing Street confirmed that the Prime Minister would sidestep the fallout from the Sue Gray Partygate report by travelling to Kyiv for talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday.
That journey, made with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, will take place after an expected phone call with Putin today, as tens of thousands of Russian troops maintain their position close to the Ukraine border.
Fears of an imminent Russian incursion in Ukraine have grown in recent days, despite denials from Moscow and pleas from Zelensky to avoid stirring ‘panic’ over the military build-up on the border.
Mr Johnson said today he will reiterate that an invasion would be ‘bitterly and bloodily resisted’ by Kiev’s forces – as well as having major repercussions internationally.
Speaking to reporters in Essex this morning, Mr Johnson said: ‘What I will say to President Putin, as I have said before, is that I think we really all need to step back from the brink.
‘I think Russia needs to step back from the brink. I think that an invasion of Ukraine, any incursion into Ukraine beyond the territory that Russia has already taken in 2014 would be an absolute disaster for the world, and above all it would be a disaster for Russia.’
Boris Johnson will urge Vladimir Putin to ‘step back from the brink’ in Ukraine today as he prepares to visit the region
Ukrainian civilians train to resist a Russian invasion over the weekend
Nato powers have been urging Mr Putin (pictured last week) to step back from confrontation
As well as visiting Ukraine, the Foreign Secretary will head on to Moscow for talks.
Diplomatic efforts are ramping up as Putin-backing oligarchs were warned there will be ‘nowhere to hide’ from new UK sanctions.
The Foreign Office is set to announce details of enhanced measures that could be used against ‘strategic interests’ of the Russian state.
Targets could include financial institutions and energy firms as well as Mr Putin’s wealthy supporters.
Meanwhile, former MI6 chief Sir John Sawers has insisted Russia can be deterred from pushing ahead with an invasion if the West makes clear there will be ‘costs’.
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