Explained: The Sue Gray report into UK leadership’s lockdown parties

Excessive alcohol consumption, an altercation, vomiting and mistreatment of security and cleaning staff. These are some of the details that emerged from senior UK civil servant Sue Gray’s report about the boozy parties in and around No. 10 Downing Street, while the rest of Britain was undergoing a strict lockdown.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has been plagued for months by the “partygate” scandal, with the opposition and large sections of the public clamoring for his resignation. Gray’s highly anticipated report was published on May 25, revealing details and photographs about the ‘illegal parties’ that took place at Downing Street, which included Johnson and other senior ministers of the government.

Gray had released a preliminary report in January, however the publication of the full report was held back until the Metropolitan police completed their inquiry of the gatherings.

What has the investigation revealed?

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In the report, Sue Gray has detailed 16 events between the period of May 2020 and April 2021 which were “not in line with Covid guidance at the time”. Johnson was reportedly present during at least 6 events.

At the time, strict restrictions were in place which banned people from meeting more than one person outdoors, restricted access and physical contact at funerals and stopped people from meeting dying family members in hospitals.

On May 15, 2020, a number of people gathered in the gardens of No. 10 Downing Street (where Johnson resides and works). Emails show that Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds invited staff members to a “socially distanced garden party” where alcohol was consumed. Johnson also attended the gathering for 30 minutes, before returning to his office. The following day, Reynolds wrote in an email, “We seem to have got away with” the party.

On June 18, 2020, a gathering was held in the Cabinet’s Room on the departure of a government official. The party which lasted several hours involved excessive drinking, “pizza and prosecco” and a karaoke machine. At some point, the party went out of hand and led to a “minor altercation” between two people and an individual got sick as well.

Sue Gray’s report also includes nine photographs from inside Downing Street, several including Johnson drinking with staff members.

A protester holds a sign showing PM Boris Johnson as he stands in front of the entrance to Downing Street in London, Wednesday, April 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

Gray said that the junior civil servants that were involved were under the impression that these parties were acceptable due to the presence of senior staff who had organised the events. The report stated that “many of these events should not have been allowed to happen” and “the senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.”

After their investigation, the Metropolitan police issued 126 fines against 83 people. Despite being present in various events, Johnson was only fined for his birthday celebration on 19 June 2020.

What has been PM Johnson’s reaction?

Boris Johnson had in December 2021 stated that “there was no Christmas party and Coronavirus rules had been followed at all times”.

A month later, he had also denied claims that he was told in advance about a gathering at his residence on May 20, 2020. However, his former senior adviser, Dominic Cumming maintained that he would swear under oath that Johnson was notified about the “ bring your own booze” party.

Johnson has, however, changed his tune since more information was released to the public, and on January 14, he apologised to the Royal family for hosting a party on the day before Prince Philip’s funeral.

On Wednesday, a day after the report was published, Johnson apologised to the public for the “partygate” scandal. While addressing the House of Commons, he said that he was “humbled” and took “full responsibility”.

Over the months, the PM has faced scathing criticism, with opposition politicians and even some Tories calling for his resignation. Johnson has stated that he would “get on” with his job.

A YouGov snap opinion poll that was conducted on the day that the report was published, revealed that 3 out of 4 Britons think that the Prime Minister should resign.

During his address to the UK’s parliament, Johnson said that it was time to “move on” and emphasise on the struggling economy and conflict in Ukraine. On Thursday, Britain’s government announced a 15 billion pound emergency aid package to help deal with the increased cost of living in the UK, as reported by The Washington Post.

Despite Johnson’s best efforts, this might not be the end of the “partygate” tale. As reported by CNN, the Prime Minister still has to face a separate parliamentary committee investigation to ascertain whether he misled the legislators in parliament.

Who is Sue Gray?

From being described as “the most powerful person you’ve never heard of” by the BBC in 2015, Sue Gray has become a household name in Britain over the past few months.

The senior servant has overseen the investigation into the “partygate” civil scandal. She was appointed to lead the inquiry in December 2021, after Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary stepped down from the leading role when it was found that he had held a party in his own office.

Sue Gray currently serves as the second permanent secretary of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Prior to that, she was the director general of propriety and ethics in the Cabinet Office from 2012-2018.

Gray has garnered a reputation of being a hard-nosed investigator, as her prior inquiries of senior ministers have resulted in scandalous resignations.

In 2017, Conservative minister Damian Green resigned after Gray’s report proved that he had misled the public about pornography on his office computer.

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