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‘Partygate’: Johnson under fire as report blames ‘senior leadership’

The “partygate” scandal which engulfed Boris Johnson and his close team earlier this year returns to centre stage on Wednesday with the publication of the much-awaited official report.

Senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report has been made public having earlier been handed to the British prime minister. Johnson is due to address parliament on its findings shortly.

A failure of leadership at British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street office was to a blame, the report says.

“Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen,” the report says. “The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.”

The results follow the publication of more photos and accounts this week of lockdown-breaking parties at  Johnson’s Downing Street office and residence.

The report gives more details about the numerous parties and social gatherings that took place in the heart of government — at a time when it was imposing strict lockdown rules on the rest of the population to try to curb the spread of COVID-19.

This week, ITV News published photos appearing to show Johnson raising a wine glass and making a speech at a gathering on November 13, 2020. Several open bottles are visible on the table next to him. The event was a staff leaving party, the broadcaster said. 

When questioned about it in parliament in December last year, the prime minister denied there was a party and said he was sure “the rules were followed at all times”.

But the BBC’s investigative Panorama programme broadcast on Tuesday cited insiders describing crowded parties, with some people staying all night and others arriving for work in the morning to find empty bottles around the building.

Johnson was fined by police for attending a gathering celebrating his birthday during lockdown but escaped further penalties. The first serving prime minister ever found to have broken the law, he has apologised for the culture in Downing Street but has rejected calls for his resignation. 

Police handed a total of 126 fines to 83 people, most of them thought to be junior staffers. Johnson’s wife and the UK’s finance minister have also said they paid fines.

Critics, including some within the ruling Conservative Party, have said the latest photos prove the prime minister lied to parliament — traditionally a resigning matter — and have called on Johnson to step down. A parliamentary investigation into whether Johnson did mislead parliament is also due to report.

Ministers have defended the prime minister, pointing out that he had apologised and the police investigation was complete.

Boris Johnson has faced several scandals in his past and has so far survived.

Since the “partygate” scandal broke, he has clung onto power, and the political context has been changed by Russia’s war in Ukraine and the rising cost of living. Some have said it would be wrong to evict the country’s leader at a time of international and domestic crisis.

However, Johnson’s supporters fear that if Gray’s report includes more vivid evidence that government staff were partying while ordinary people were avoiding social contact — many were unable to visit sick relatives or attend funerals — then public anger could be reignited.

An interim report was published earlier this year but the full edition was delayed to allow for the separate police investigation to be carried out.

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