BoJo Facing the Heat as ‘Damning’ New Leaks Precede Release of 'Partygate' Dossier
05:58 GMT 25.05.2022 (Updated: 12:49 GMT 25.05.2022)
Earlier in the week, bombshell new images were released by ITV News showing the beleaguered Boris Johnson appearing to raise a toast at a leaving party for the outgoing director of communications Lee Cain on 13 November 2020, just eight days after the UK Prime Minister imposed England’s second national coronavirus lockdown.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is bracing himself to receive the final report from senior civil servant Sue Gray into the so-called “partygate” scandal
, anticipated to be more in-depth than the Met Police investigation that wrapped up last week, reported UK media outlets.
No 10 Downing Street is due to receive the report this morning, with the PM expected to make a statement to the House of Commons once the findings have been published. Previously, Downing Street said this might take place at 12:30, after Boris Johnson wraps up Prime Minister's Questions. In the afternoon, Johnson will also face a meeting of the Tory backbench 1922 committee.
After the Gray dossier is published, the PM will face an investigation by the Commons Privileges Committee into whether he intentionally misled Parliament over “partygate”. Under the terms of the ministerial code, this would qualify as a resigning offence.
‘Damning’ New Leaks
Sue Gray’s inquiry had originally been launched in the wake of media reports of multiple potentially law-breaking gatherings
in or near Downing Street when strict coronavirus lockdown measures were in place from 2020 to 2021. However, after Scotland Yard began its own investigation earlier in the year into the alleged breaches of the law, Gray was asked to put her own final report on hold.
The civil servant’s interim report in early February stopped short of naming any individuals or assigning blame for rule-breaking, stating that the incidents investigated were “difficult to justify”, and there had been “failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times”.
After the Metropolitan Police investigation - Operation Hillman - wrapped up
on 19 May with a total of 126 fixed-penalty notices (FPNs) levied against 83 people on eight dates from May 2020 to April 2021, the green light had been given for Sue Gray to release her own final report.
Boris Johnson, his wife, Carrie, and the UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak were issued with Fixed Penalty Notices (FPN) by Scotland Yard earlier in relation to a surprise party for the PM’s 56th birthday on 19 June 2020 that was found to have breached coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Although the Met Police decided not to fine the PM over any other event, their inquiry is now facing mounting criticism after damning new photos were leaked earlier in the week by ITV News.
They appeared to show Boris Johnson toasting colleagues at leaving drinks for Lee Cain, his former director of communications, on 13 November 2020. At the time, England was in its second nationwide COVID-19 lockdown, with indoor mixing banned.
Furthermore, another photo, published by The Mirror on Tuesday, allegedly showed a No 10 party held on 17 November 2020 to mark the final press briefing by James Slack, Johnson’s outgoing media director.
The photo revealed a table littered with bottles of alcohol and snacks, purportedly sent to a WhatsApp group of aides. It allegedly came with a message that read: “The bar is open”. Other messages alluded to in the report suggested that the event, attended by between 30 and 40 staff and purportedly not investigated by police, had been planned in advance. One official is believed to have posted a reference to “Wine Time Tuesday”.
Adding fuel to the fire, a BBC Panorama report offered more insight into the atmosphere of the events at Downing Street spanning 2020-21 during the country’s national coronavirus lockdown. Cited No 10 officials alleged that staff had crowded together for the aforementioned gatherings, and “sat on each other's laps”.
Witnesses described arriving at work in the morning to find waste bins overflowing with empty bottles from parties held the night before. According to insiders, some parties continued so late into the night that staff would end up staying in Downing Street until morning. Anyone who attempted to admonish the partygoers or stop them is said to have been mocked.
A ‘Resignation Issue’
These recent revelations form the backdrop for the anticipated Sue Gray report on Wednesday.
Tory MP Charles Walker was cited as telling the BBC that the "seminal moment" for Johnson had been when he received just one solitary fine from Scotland Yard over the “partygate” inquiry, suggesting that the prime minister was “through the worst of it".
However, a strong chorus of voices from among both the opposition and Johnson’s own Tory ranks thinks otherwise. Some MPs have accused Johnson of misleading parliament
after he denied attending the 13 November party.
In December 2021 in the House of Commons, Labour MP Catherine West asked the prime minister to say “whether there was a party in Downing Street on 13 November ?” Johnson replied:
“No, but I am sure that whatever happened, the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.”
The Labour party has stated that the leaked images show there is “no doubt now” that Boris Johnson “lied” to Parliament. Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said it would be difficult for the PM to reconcile his statements to Parliament with the released pictures. He urged Tory MPs to remove Johnson from office.
Senior Conservative Tom Tugendhat told the BBC: "Seriousness in government matters. It costs us all. And I'm afraid this just doesn't look serious."
Veteran Conservative MP Roger Gale told media that this was a "resignation issue".
Furthermore, Boris Johnson is reportedly facing fury from “dozens” of junior staff who, unlike him, received police fines for attending Downing Street gatherings they had felt that the PM “condoned".
Referring to the leaving gathering for Cain on 13 November 2020, one insider was cited by i newspaper as saying:
“It was felt that the event was condoned because the PM was there. There is a lot of anger out there. It’s not just a handful of people, there are dozens.”
According to another civil servant, there was “a lot of upset among junior and younger staff”, who blamed “a lack of grip and authority” in No 10.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has also aligned himself with those who are urging the Met
to explain why Boris Johnson received just one fine for breaching lockdown rules. Khan wrote to the Met Police seeking a "detailed explanation" after photos showed the PM was "caught red-handed" at an event for which he was not fined.
The Lib-Dems have also filed a complaint over the Met's investigation.
Ex-Met chief superintendent Dal Babu was cited by Sky News as saying he was “flabbergasted” that Johnson had received just the one fine.
"What people will wonder is if there is this really clear evidence of an offence, what else have the Met investigators missed?" added Babu.
Before publication of Gray’s report, Downing Street’s spokesman has said he could not "get into commenting on claims put forward given Sue Gray's report has not been published yet".
"You will hear from the prime minister once that has happened, so I am limited in what I can say," added the spokesman.