Report finds 'failure of leadership and judgment' over Downing Street lockdown parties

The prime minister is facing calls to resign over the scandal.

January 31, 2022, 11:57 AM

LONDON -- U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is apologizing again after initial findings of an investigation found that he and his staff showed "failures of leadership and judgment" for allegedly hosting parties during lockdown.

Johnson and his staff have been under fire in recent weeks for holding a number of parties last year -- including a Christmas gathering as the country was sent back into lockdown -- in alleged breaches of his own government’s lockdown rules.

The extent to which the report would lay blame at the feet of Johnson had been the subject of intense speculation, with the prime minister facing down a barrage of calls to resign from opposition lawmakers and even disgruntled members of his own party.

In a statement following the publication of the report, authored by Sue Gray, a civil servant appointed to lead the investigation, Johnson said he "accepted the general findings in full." He apologized "for the things we simply didn’t get right... [and] the way this matter has been handled."

Responding to criticisms in the report about accountability measures in different government departments, Johnson said, "I get it, and I will fix it," prompting jeers from opposition lawmakers in the House of Commons.

PHOTO: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks outside 10 Downing Street in London, Jan. 31, 2022.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks outside 10 Downing Street in London, Jan. 31, 2022.
May James/Reuters

The scandal has dominated British politics in recent weeks. The intervention of the Metropolitan Police, which is now carrying out a criminal investigation into at least eight of the gatherings, meant the report has not been published in full, which some critics have said granted the prime minister a short-term reprieve.

Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, who has called for the prime minister to resign since the beginning of the crisis, described the interim report as "damning."

Gray said she was only able to “make minimal reference” to the gatherings under police investigation. At the time of these alleged get-togethers, breaches of lockdown rules were punishable by fixed penalty fines. Restrictions were also in place at the time on hospital and care home visits and funerals, prompting fury from victims and the bereaved, represented by organizations such as the COVID Bereaved Families for Justice.

Johnson apologized in the House of Commons earlier this month but denied breaching any rules. At a gathering in the Downing Street gardens in May of last year, which Johnson himself attended and over 100 staffers were invited to despite social distancing rules, Johnson said he believed it was a "work event."

While the interim report is lacking in detail over what exactly took place at the gatherings in question – which reports in the U.K. media said included leaving parties for departing staff -- the update was critical of numerous “failures of leadership” at various levels of the government.

“Some of the events should not have been allowed to take place,” Gray wrote. “Other events should not have been allowed to develop as they did.”

Meanwhile, Gray said “steps needed to be taken” to ensure that government departments had clearer policies covering the drinking of alcohol.

“The excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time,” she said in the report.“Against the backdrop of the pandemic, when the government was asking citizens to accept far-reaching restrictions on their lives, some of the behavior surrounding these gatherings is difficult to justify.”

The full report may not be published until after the Metropolitan Police have completed their investigation.

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