U.K. report faults Boris Johnson over Covid lockdown parties in Downing Street

LONDON — Parties held by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his staff during Covid-19 lockdown were a “serious failure” of the standards of public office and “difficult to justify,” a highly anticipated government report said Monday.

Johnson commissioned the report amid widespread fury over a number of alleged parties held while the country was under strict coronavirus restrictions.

He has been fighting to save his leadership from the scandal and apologized this month for attending a “bring your own booze” party in the garden of his No. 10 Downing St. residence and office.

Senior civil servant Sue Gray handed Johnson an “update” of her findings that was later published online. She found more than a dozen social gatherings and sharply faulted the country’s leadership.

“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,” the interim report said.

“A number of these gatherings should not have been allowed to take place or to develop in the way that they did,” it added. It also called for a crackdown on the “excessive consumption of alcohol” in Downing St. that it said was “not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time.”

Gray said that 12 of the 16 parties she looked into are now being investigated by London’s Metropolitan Police, and that she would not be able to hand over her full report until that was complete.

The Met, which has been criticized for not investigating the parties earlier, said Monday that its bundle of evidence for the case includes more than 500 pages and some 300 photographs. It said in a statement that if it finds rules were breached it could hand out fines to those involved.

Later on Monday, Johnson offered an apology to a raucous House of Commons, having attempted to deny in December that the parties had happened, then suggested that staff were to blame. But he still urged his critics to wait for the full conclusions of Gray and the police.

“Firstly, I want to say sorry. Sorry for the things we didn’t get right,” he said.

He said that in light of the report he would be making “changes” to the way Downing St. and the Cabinet Office are run.

“I get it, and I will fix it,” he told lawmakers.

Johnson repeatedly sidestepped questions from lawmakers asking whether his government would publish the report in full when it arrived.

Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said in response that Johnson was “a man without shame” and repeated his call for the prime minister to resign.

Parliament is usually a rowdy place, but Johnson’s Conservative lawmakers listened to their chief opponent’s speech in silence.

Starmer spoke of members of the public who felt “guilt because they stuck to the law they did not see their parents one last time” during lockdown while their own government did not. He said that their sacrifice would be “forever tainted” by Johnson’s government and that they “took us all for fools.“

Conservative lawmakers listened to their chief opponent’s speech in silence.

It was not just on the opposition benches that Johnson heard rancor. The rolling “partygate” revelations have stirred rebellion within his own lawmakers, leading to speculation he may be about to face a vote of no confidence.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May, Johnson’s Conservative predecessor, said that either he “had not read the rules or didn’t understand” them, “or they didn’t think the rules applied” to him.

“Which was it?” she asked.

Johnson’s grip on power has been weakened by allegations that he and his staff flouted restrictions they imposed on the country in 2020 and 2021 to curb the spread of the coronavirus by holding office parties, birthday celebrations and “wine time Fridays.”

The claims have caused public anger, led some Conservative lawmakers to call for Johnson’s resignation and triggered intense infighting inside the governing party.

The full report’s publication, expected last week, was thrown into doubt, however, when the police force launched its investigation into the most serious alleged breaches of coronavirus rules.

The force said it had asked for Gray’s report to make only “minimal reference” to the events being investigated by detectives “to avoid any prejudice to our investigation.”

Johnson’s opponents accused the government of trying to water down a report that could trigger an attempt to oust him by his own party. Some Conservative lawmakers have said they would push for a no-confidence vote if Gray found Johnson was at fault or lied to Parliament about his actions.

Johnson’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Associated Press contributed.

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