So it’s all true. Sue Gray’s report uses the desiccated language of the civil service, but it nonetheless corroborates all that has been written and broadcast by the media over the past six months.
There were gatherings galore in No 10 that breached the draconian Covid rules drawn up and imposed on the rest of the country by Boris Johnson. Some lasted for hours and continued until the small hours of the morning. There were “Wine Time Fridays”, “excessive alcohol consumption”, music, things broken, a drunken altercation, a panic alarm accidentally triggered.
Gray’s report includes internal messages showing that senior staff knew full well that what they were doing was wrong. One flags up a simultaneous press conference in Downing Street “so helpful if people can be mindful of that… not walking around waving bottles of wine etc”. Another says that “a 200 odd person invitation for drinks in the garden of No 10 is somewhat of a comms risk in the current environment”. A third refers coyly to “your drinks which aren’t drinks”. A fourth advises staff to “leave No 10 via the back exit”.
Gray adds: “I was made aware of multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff. This was unacceptable.”
She concludes that “many of these events should not have been allowed to happen”; that “the public have a right to expect the very highest standards of behaviour in [No 10] and clearly what happened fell well short of this”; and that “the senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture”.
Johnson’s response to the damning report in the House of Commons was as disgraceful as its findings. He says he accepts “full responsibility” for what happened, but those are empty words. If he really did he would resign.
He says he is “humbled”, yet he has joked about “partygate” in private with ministers and Tory MPs and told GB News it was “a lot of nonsense”.
Asked if he lied to the Commons when he said successively that no illegal parties took place, that he was unaware of them and that the rules were all followed, he continues to lie by claiming, preposterously, that they were legal work events during the short time he attended them and only turned into illegal parties after he left.
Despite being the first prime minister in British history to be found guilty of breaking the law while in office, and despite the fact the police have fined 82 of his aides and civil servants for breaking Covid rules, he has the temerity to attack Keir Starmer for a single incident in which the Labour leader shared a beer and curry with a few colleagues after a day’s campaigning.
Qualitatively, quantitatively and in every other way, as the proverbial dog in the street knows full well, there is no comparison to be made between Starmer’s alleged transgression and the serial partying in No 10. But that did not stop Johnson, in a singularly ill-judged attack, labelling Starmer “Sir Beer Korma” and referring to the “great gaseous Zeppelin of his [Starmer’s] pomposity”. So much for his professed humility.
Starmer has pledged to resign if the police do by any chance find that he breached the rules. Allegra Stratton resigned as the Downing Street press secretary for joking about an illegal party in No 10. The epidemiologist Neil Ferguson resigned as a government adviser after his lover visited his house in breach of the rules. Catherine Calderwood resigned as Scotland’s chief medical officer for visiting her second home during the first lockdown. Even Matt Hancock eventually did the decent thing and resigned as the health secretary after being caught kissing the woman with whom he was having an affair in violation of the rules.
Those people all possessed at least a shred of decency and integrity – unlike the man who made the rules, imposed them on the country and demanded time and again that people abide by them no matter how great the sacrifice. Any other prime minister, without exception, would have resigned long ago, but not this one.
Sadly Johnson has corrupted the Conservative parliamentary party just as he has corrupted Downing Street. With a few honourable exceptions, his ministers and backbenchers are too gutless, too compromised by years of defending the indefensible, to remove him now. It will be left to the electorate to do that, and it surely will.