LONDON, May 25 — Senior leaders at British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Downing Street office were to blame for a culture of rule-breaking, an official report said on Wednesday, detailing a series of illegal alcohol-fuelled parties during coronavirus lockdowns.
The report by senior official Sue Gray was commissioned by Johnson after revelations of boozy events at Downing Street when social mixing was all but banned under stringent laws his government had made to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Johnson has faced calls to resign from opposition politicians and some in his own party after it was revealed both he and officials had broken the rules that meant people could not socialise outside their households or even, in many cases, attend funerals for loved ones.
"Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen," the report said. "The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture."
Gray's interim findings were published in January, but most details were withheld until the end of a separate police inquiry, which concluded last week with 126 fines handed out.
Both Johnson and finance minister Rishi Sunak were among those fined over a party to celebrate the prime minister's 56th birthday on June 2020, although Gray said both were unaware of the gathering in advance.
She did not specifically lay the blame at Johnson's door for the wrongdoing, but gave graphic details and included photographs from more than a dozen Downing Street gatherings, some of which he attended.
"Many will be dismayed that behaviour of this kind took place on this scale at the heart of government," her report said. "The public have a right to expect the very highest standards of behaviour in such places and clearly what happened fell well short of this."
'Excessive alcohol consumption'
At one leaving event for an official in June 2020, Gray said there was "excessive alcohol consumption" which led to one person being sick and a fight between two others.
At another event, held the night before the funeral for Queen Elizabeth's husband Prince Philip in April 2021, individuals partied into the early hours, breaking the child's swing used by Johnson's son in the Downing Street garden.
The leader of House of Commons said Johnson would later make a statement to parliament on the report.
Seeking to play it down, environment minister George Eustice earlier said police had investigated "all of these events".
"They've issued a fixed penalty notice to the prime minister in respect of one of those events that he that he attended. He's paid that penalty," he told Times Radio.
For months, evidence of the alcohol-fuelled parties has dripped out into the media, forcing Johnson to apologise, change the team at his office and promise a reset to try to restore his authority.
Many Conservative lawmakers are increasingly frustrated about having to defend their prime minister, but several have said they would wait for Gray's full report before deciding whether to demand Johnson should quit.
Some felt the report was not as damning as it could have been.
"This is all so banal," one Conservative said on condition of anonymity. "I wasn't sent here to worry about this sort of stuff."
The lawmaker also pointed to Gray saying she was pleased progress was being made in addressing the issues she had raised.
Johnson had initially denied there had been any parties or rule-breaking at Downing Street, and some lawmakers say his position is untenable if he is found to have lied to parliament, a matter under investigation by parliament's Committee of Privileges.
Ministers say he has not misled parliament.
One Conservative lawmaker said the details of the report suggested the prime minister had in fact done so.
"The Sue Gray report makes pretty grim reading, but mostly confirms what was already public knowledge. The question remains 'Did the PM knowingly mislead parliament?'," the second lawmaker said.
"Reading the report and its conclusions, it's very difficult to dispute that he did." — Reuters