LONDON — Parties held by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his staff during Covid-19 lockdown were a “serious failure” of the standards of public office and “difficult to justify,” a highly anticipated government report said Monday.
Johnson commissioned the report amid widespread fury over a number of alleged parties held while the country was under strict coronavirus restrictions. He has been fighting to save his leadership from the scandal and apologized this month for attending one event, a “bring your own booze” party, in the garden of his No. 10 Downing St residence and office.
Senior civil servant Sue Gray handed Johnson an “update” of her findings that was later published online. She found more than a dozen social gatherings and sharply faulted the country’s leadership.
“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,” the interim report said.
“A number of these gatherings should not have been allowed to take place or to develop in the way that they did,” it added.
The full report will not be released until London’s Metropolitan Police has finished its own investigation, with major parts of her findings withheld at the police’s request.
Johnson — who in December attempted to deny that the parties had happened, then suggested that staff were to blame and later urged his critics to wait for Gray’s conclusions — apologized on Monday.
“First of all, I want to say sorry. Sorry for the things we didn’t get right,” he told the House of Commons later on Monday.
He said that in light of the report he would be making “changes” to the way Downing St. and the Cabinet Office are run.
“I get it, and I will fix it,” he told lawmakers.
Johnson’s grip on power has been weakened by allegations that he and his staff flouted restrictions they imposed on the country in 2020 and 2021 to curb the spread of the coronavirus by holding office parties, birthday celebrations and “wine time Fridays.”
The claims have caused public anger, led some Conservative lawmakers to call for Johnson’s resignation and triggered intense infighting inside the governing party.
The full report’s investigation, expected last week, was thrown into doubt, however, when the police force launched its into the most serious alleged breaches of coronavirus rules.
The force said it had asked for Gray’s report to make only “minimal reference” to the events being investigated by detectives “to avoid any prejudice to our investigation.”
Johnson’s opponents accused the government of trying to water down a report that could trigger an attempt to oust him by his own party. Some Conservative lawmakers have said they would push for a no-confidence vote if Gray found Johnson was at fault or lied to Parliament about his actions.
Johnson’s office did not respond to a request for comment.