Boris Johnson's staff got drunk, brawled and abused cleaners during Covid lockdowns, damning report finds

Originally Published: 25 MAY 22 05:46 ET
Updated: 25 MAY 22 08:07 ET

    (CNN) -- Parties that went on until the early hours of the morning. Drunken staff vomiting and fighting with each other. Downing Street walls stained with red wine. And an illegal birthday party for Britain's Prime Minister, complete with six-packs of beer and dozens of sandwiches.

That was the scene at the heart of Boris Johnson's government while the rest of the United Kingdom was banned from seeing friends or relatives, according to a long-awaited probe into lockdown-breaking parties in Whitehall and Downing Street.

Johnson is facing a battle to save his premiership after the report published on Wednesday by senior civil servant Sue Gray criticized a culture of rule-breaking events, and revealed new photographs of him at two separate gatherings.

Gray wrote that "the senior leadership at the centre" of Johnson's administration "must bear responsibility" for a culture that allowed the parties to take place.

She added there is "no excuse for some of the behaviour" she investigated, which included "excessive alcohol consumption." Logs of email exchanges were also featured, including some where staff openly discussed hiding their partying from the media.

The report probed 16 events that took place at the heart of government while the United Kingdom was living under strict Covid-19 restrictions.

A picture of Johnson raising a can of beer at a birthday party thrown in his honor was included in the dossier, alongside more images of Johnson at another event.

Speaking in Parliament moments after the report was published, Johnson said he was "humbled" and has "learned my lesson," adding: "I take full responsibility for everything that took place on my watch."

But he also repeated previous claims that parties only escalated after he left, and insisted he was "surprised and disappointed" that several drink-fueled events took place.

And he suggested that the cramped quarters of the government buildings and the "extremely long hours" of his staff responding to the Covid-19 crisis could explain why several parties and social events took place.

"I briefly attended such gatherings to thank them for their service, which I believe is one of the essential duties of leadership," Johnson said.

The report raises serious questions about whether Johnson misled lawmakers when previously denying parties took place.

He was savaged by opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, who said the inquest "provides definitive proof of how those within the building treated the sacrifices of the British people with utter contempt."

"This report will stand as a monument to the hubris and the arrogance of a government that believed it was one rule for them, and another rule for everyone else," Starmer said.

"You cannot be a lawmaker and a law-breaker. It's time to pack his bags."

Staff told to bring booze and avoid media

Gray also found that Johnson attended a garden party in May 2020 for around half an hour, where approximately "30-40 people" were present.

An invitation to that event told staff of "socially distanced drinks" in the Downing Street garden, open to "whoever is in your office."

"Could you also suggest they bring their own booze! Not sure we will have enough," the email from Martin Reynolds, Johnson's principal private secretary, said, according to the report. The next day, Reynolds noted the media had not reported on the party, writing to a colleague: "We seem to have got away with (it)."

In one email exchange, staff were told to avoid "walking around waving bottles of wine" while media were in the building, and to keep the sound down at gatherings when a Covid-19 ministerial press conference was taking place.

Some staff felt uncomfortable at the behavior inside Number 10 but feared raising the issue, Gray found. And on other occasions, custodial staff were treated poorly by those involved in events.

"I was made aware of multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff. This was unacceptable," she wrote.

And Gray hinted that Downing Street officials had been unwilling to provide information about the parties, writing: "It was also unfortunately the case that details of some events only became known to me and my team through reporting in the media. This is disappointing."

Johnson's time in office has been derailed by the months-long scandal dubbed "Partygate" by the British media. He initially denied any events had taken place, but 16 were subsequently investigated by Gray, 12 were probed by the police and Johnson himself was fined by officers for attending one.

On the eve of the report's release, ITV News published photographs of Johnson raising a glass with several of his colleagues at a leaving event in November 2020, when indoor mixing was banned.

Johnson is set to address the House of Commons later on Wednesday. Some of the lawmakers in his own Conservative party have joined opposition calls for him to resign in recent weeks, and he will now have to convince his colleagues to stand by him despite the slew of allegations and Gray's damning inquiry.

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