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Johnson braced for criticism as final ‘partygate’ report is published

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Boris Johnson is braced for more damaging criticism as the senior civil servant investigating lockdown parties in Downing Street and Whitehall is set to hand over her final report.

Sue Gray is expected to be highly critical of the culture in No 10 which led to the repeated violations of Covid restrictions over the course of 2020 and 2021.

The report is also expected to criticise Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, but he has made clear he will not be resigning and the Prime Minister will not sack him.

Following his receipt of her report – which he has pledged to publish in full – Mr Johnson will make a statement to MPs in the Commons.

Later on Wednesday, he will stage a press conference in Downing Street and address the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs who will have to decide whether the findings are sufficiently serious to warrant a push to oust him.

Sue Gray
Sue Gray previously published a shortened version of the report in January while a Met Police investigation was also ongoing (GOV.UK/PA)

Ms Gray’s report will give the clearest picture so far of events which led to widespread public anger, including the names of some of those who attended gatherings.

Officials impacted by the inquiry, including those to be named, were written to ahead of its publication, allowing them to have a chance to respond before it was finalised.

Mr Case had a brief conversation with Mr Johnson in No 10 on Wednesday morning during which he said he would not be quitting – and the Prime Minister was clear he would not be sacked.

Ahead of its release, a Cabinet ally of the Prime Minister said Mr Johnson accepted that there had been “failings” in Government and had apologised for what went wrong.

Environment Secretary George Eustice told Times Radio: “Clearly what happened in No 10 is a culture developed where they were working there, it was their place of work, and there were times when they would have a drink at the end of the day.”

Cabinet Meeting
Prime Minister Boris Johnson chairs a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street (Daniel Leal/PA)

“That boundary between what was acceptable and what wasn’t got blurred and that was a mistake.

“Sue Gray highlighted that in her first interim report and I think she is almost certainly going to say more about that when her final report comes out.

“The Prime Minister himself has accepted that and recognises there were of course failings and therefore there’s got to be some changes to the way the place is run.”

Following his receipt of the report, Mr Johnson will make a statement to MPs in the Commons.

He will then stage a press conference in Downing Street and address the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs who will have to decide whether the findings are sufficiently serious to warrant a push to oust him.

According to an earlier, shortened version published in January, Ms Gray’s investigation analysed events from May 15 2020 to April 16 2021.

The full publication into the parties was sidelined as the Metropolitan Police conducted its own partygate probe, dubbed Operation Hillman.

10 Downing Street
A Cabinet spokesman said Mr Johnson accepted mistakes had been made (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The force concluded its investigation on May 19, with 126 fines being issued in total to 83 people.

Mr Johnson received one for an event held on his 56th birthday and was told he would face no further action over other gatherings covered by the inquiry.

Earlier this week, two new photographs apparently depicting separate gatherings at Downing Street were published.

Images obtained by ITV appeared to show Mr Johnson raising a toast and drinking wine at a gathering held to mark the departure of former spin doctor Lee Cain on November 13 2020.

The Mirror meanwhile published a picture showing a man standing at a table with nine bottles of wine and prosecco, which was claimed to have been taken at a gathering to mark the final press briefing by Mr Johnson’s former official spokesman James Slack on November 17 2020.

On Tuesday evening, the BBC broadcast a Panorama programme which featured three anonymous individuals describing in detail what they witnessed at regular rule-breaking events during coronavirus restrictions.

They said events were “every week”, with invitations for press office drinks listed in the diary as “Wine-Time Friday”.

On Tuesday, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan wrote to the acting head of the Metropolitan Police Sir Stephen House to explain the force’s decisions over partygate after pictures emerged of Mr Johnson drinking at a gathering for which he was not fined.