Lockdown parties report lambasts failures of U.K. government leadership

British PM Boris Johnson in Downing Street
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks Monday outside 10 Downing Street in London.
REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

By William James, Kylie MacLellan and Elizabeth Piper

LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced renewed calls to resign on Monday after a report found that alcohol-fueled parties at his offices and residence when COVID-19 lockdown rules were in force should never have taken place.

The report by senior civil servant Sue Gray into the lockdown gatherings — at a time when Britons were all but banned from social mixing to tackle the coronavirus pandemic — pointed to “serious failures of leadership” at the heart of the British government.

She condemned some of the behavior in government as being “difficult to justify,” saying “the excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time.”

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

However, she said she could not offer a “meaningful report” in order not to prejudice a separate police investigation. But she disclosed that detectives were looking into rule-breaking events, including one in Johnson’s apartment above his office.

Johnson’s office said Gray would be asked to update her report once the police investigation has concluded and that the update would be published.

The saga has become the gravest threat to Johnson’s premiership, already under scrutiny for a series of scandals and his handling of the COVID-19 response. Opposition politicians and some members of his own Conservative Party have called on him to resign.

Johnson made a statement and answered questions for almost two hours in parliament on Monday afternoon following the report’s publication to apologize again and to pledge to make changes at his office.

“I want to say sorry. I get it and I will fix it,” he said in a raucous debate, when he was challenged by some Conservative lawmakers.

One, Aaron Bell, fought back tears as he recounted the funeral held for his grandmother during the COVID lockdown.

“She was a wonderful woman … I drove for three hours … only 10 people at the funeral. Many people who loved her had to watch online. I didn’t hug my siblings. I didn’t hug my parents,” he said. “Does the prime minister think I am a fool?”

Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, accused him of blaming everyone else but himself.

“There can be no doubt that the prime minister himself is now subject to criminal investigation,” Starmer told parliament.

The leader of the Scottish National Party, Ian Blackford, was forced to leave the House of Commons after accusing Johnson of misleading parliament, an offense for which the prime minister would be expected to resign.

Gray’s report looked into what has become weeks of a steady drip of stories about events in Downing Street during the lockdown, with reports of aides stuffing a suitcase full of alcohol and dancing until the early hours.

However, parts of the report were not published due to the ongoing police investigation, which could take months. The officer in charge said detectives were looking at 500 pieces of paper and more than 300 photographs.

“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,” Gray wrote.

“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,” it said.

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