Downing Street party report deepens crisis for Boris Johnson

LONDON — A long-awaited report on Downing Street parties during the pandemic dealt a blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday, con...


LONDON — A long-awaited report on Downing Street parties during the pandemic dealt a blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday, condemning him for his failing leadership and painting a damning picture of “excessive” drinking at work in the inner sanctum of the British government.

Mr Johnson had hoped the publication of the 11-page document would allow him to put a festering scandal on the illicit parties behind him. But instead he was beaten in parliament, facing a fresh round of questions about his personal attendance at social gatherings that appear to have breached lockdown rules.

Even in a very redacted form, the report of Sue Gray, senior civil servantdeepened the crisis that has engulfed Mr Johnson for weeks since reports of inappropriate gatherings surfaced late last year and sparked a firestorm of criticism over a double standard: that the Prime Minister and its staff could flout pandemic rules while insisting the rest of the country obey them.

‘There have been failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times,’ Ms Gray wrote of the Downing Street leadership. “Some of the events should not have taken place. Other events should not have developed as they did.

In his murderous appearance in Parliament, Mr Johnson faced a fresh call for a senior member of his Tory party to resign, as well as repeated demands for the release of the full investigator’s report – forcing finally Downing Street to say it would.

Ms Gray was forced to cleanse the document of its potentially most damaging details because London’s Metropolitan Police are investigating eight parties, including a detainee in Mr Johnson’s own flat, and they did not want the findings to prejudice their investigation. Worryingly, police said on Monday night that they had so far collected more than 500 pages of evidence and more than 300 photos.

Already facing a revolt within his party, Mr Johnson was forced to watch one Tory after another rise to scold him for allowing an unruly, booze-soaked culture to thrive in Downing Street. His predecessor as prime minister, Theresa May, summed up the growing sense of opprobrium.

The British public, she said, “had the right to expect their Prime Minister to have read the rules, to understand the meaning of the rules”. Arguing that the report made it clear that Downing Street had flouted pandemic restrictions, she asked Mr Johnson if he “hadn’t read the rules, or didn’t understand what they meant, and the others around him, or if they didn’t think the rules applied to No. 10. Which was it?

Mr Johnson denied the report revealed any wrongdoing and pleaded with Ms May to wait until the police investigation was completed. After deflecting multiple questions about whether it would release Ms Gray’s unredacted report after this – prompting heckling from the opposition and stony silence from its backbench MPs – Downing Street relented late on Monday .

“I understand and I will fix it,” a beleaguered Mr Johnson said earlier. He insisted his track record on Brexit and the rollout of coronavirus vaccines should outweigh what he admitted was his mishandling of the issue, for which he apologized again on Monday.

Mr Johnson’s contrition did little to calm the fiery mood in the House of Commons. The leader of the opposition Scottish National Party in the UK Parliament, Ian Blackford, was expelled after outright accusing Mr Johnson of lying to members – a breach of parliamentary protocol.

For Mr Johnson, the dramatic events have upended his plans to turn to crowd-pleasing announcements on the economy and government regulations, as well as claim a statesman’s role in the looming crisis. develops in Ukraine.

A scheduled phone call with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin did not take place as Mr Johnson instead faced 90 minutes of questioning in parliament. On Tuesday, Mr Johnson is due to travel to Ukraine for a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky, his most direct involvement in a crisis that so far he has largely delegated to the UK Foreign Secretary and Defense Secretary.

Knowing the report would be very limited in scope, Downing Street had hoped its publication would help dispel public anger over the lockdown parties and allow the government to move on to other matters. The document was so abbreviated that the Cabinet Office called it an ‘update’ of Ms Gray’s investigation rather than a report.

But the report painted a disturbing picture of a greenhouse work culture in Downing Street, where staff members held alcohol-fueled rallies for much of 2020, a time when the government was urging the public to avoid socializing, even with close friends and relatives.

“Excessive alcohol consumption is not appropriate at any time in a professional workplace,” Ms Gray wrote, adding that government agencies needed “a clear and robust policy covering alcohol consumption on the job. workplace”. At one point during the debate, Mr Johnson denied drinking too much at work.

In total, Ms Gray’s report referred to 16 social gatherings in Downing Street and nearby offices during lockdown periods. Mr Johnson is known to have attended at least three of them, including a garden party in May 2020 which he insisted he believed was a work event to thank members of the staff.

The report also refers to a rally held at Mr Johnson’s flat, which is above 11 Downing Street, on November 13, 2020. This is the day the Prime Minister sacked his chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, who has since become Mr. Johnson’s nemesis, divulging details of the turmoil and intrigue inside Downing Street.

Mr Johnson declined to comment on the party, which is the subject of a police investigation. London newspapers have taken to calling it the ‘Abba party’, ever since people outside said they heard ‘The Winner Takes it All’, a 1970s hit by the Swedish pop group that floated by the Windows.

Some said Mr Johnson might have been better served by putting more details in the public domain rather than letting the matter hang on him. Now he remains besieged and fighting to retain his position, with more members of his own party turning against him.

During the debate, a senior Tory lawmaker, Andrew Mitchell, said he no longer supported Mr Johnson. A young Tory, Aaron Bell, spoke movingly about following all the rules while attending a socially distanced funeral for his grandmother, where he said there were just 10 people.

“I didn’t kiss my siblings. I didn’t kiss my parents. I gave a eulogy and after that I didn’t even go to her house for a cup of tea,” he said. he said, adding that he then drove three hours home. ‘Does the prime minister think I’m a fool?’

Mr Johnson scrambled to avoid a vote of no confidence from Tory lawmakers. Such a vote would be triggered if 54 members submitted confidential letters requesting it. That threshold has yet to be reached, and Mr Johnson appears to have strengthened his position in recent days as public outcry over the parties appears to have waned.

But on Monday, said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London, “It was very noticeable that few Tory MPs were rising to ask questions of support, even though loyalist ministers rolled out to speak on his behalf. name. in the media.”

Mr Johnson’s future, Prof Bale said, now depended on the public’s reaction to the latest disclosure. At Kings Cross station in London on Monday, several people said they believed the government had betrayed the public trust.

“He broke his own rules,” said Joanna Ashby, 55, a National Health Service nurse. “I know people who have died in confinement. I had to attend their funeral virtually. My niece never had a diploma – they took her away.

saskia solomon contributed reports

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Newsrust - US Top News: Downing Street party report deepens crisis for Boris Johnson
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