LONDON (Associated Press) – An investigative report published on Wednesday blamed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other top leaders for allowing vociferous government parties to have breached the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown rules, and while Johnson said he took “full responsibility” for the abuses. He insisted he would not resign.
Revelations that Johnson and his staff have repeatedly violated the restrictions they imposed on Britain in 2020 and 2021 has sparked outrage in the country and led to calls from opponents of Johnson to step down over the scandal known as ‘Partygate’.
Most lawmakers in Johnson’s ruling Conservative Party have sided with him for now, and it is not yet clear whether senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report will change that, despite detailed descriptions of the alcohol-fuelled clashes in the building where the prime minister lives and works. .
Gray investigated 16 gatherings attended by Johnson and his staff while UK residents were prevented from socializing, or even from visiting sick and dying relatives, due to coronavirus restrictions.
Gray’s report concluded that “the senior leadership team … must take responsibility” for the rule-breaking culture. She said there had been “failures of leadership and governance” in the 10th Prime Minister’s office in Downing Street.
“Those in the most junior positions attended the gatherings at which the elderly were present, or already organized,” she said.
A separate police investigation resulted in fines for 83 people – including Johnson – making him the first British Prime Minister to be found to have broken the law while in office.
Speaking to lawmakers after the report was published, Johnson said he took “full responsibility for everything that happened” and expressed regret – but denied he had intentionally violated any rules. He said he felt “humbled” and “learned a lesson” but now it was time to “move forward” and focus on the battered British economy and the war in Ukraine.
Critics, including some from the Conservative Party, have said Johnson lied to Parliament about the events. Ministers who deliberately mislead Parliament are expected to resign.
Johnson denied lying. He insisted that when he told Parliament last year that no rules had been broken and that there were no parties, “that was what I thought was right”.
Johnson attended several of the events mentioned in Gray’s report, including a birthday party in June 2020 where he was fined £50 ($63). “I thought they were business events,” he told a news conference.
British media and opposition politicians have found it difficult to reconcile staff accounts of “bring your own liquor” and “wine Fridays” parties in the Downing Street office amid the pandemic.
Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labor Party, said the Gray report was an “index of criminality” and that Johnson’s government had “treated the sacrifices of the British people with utter contempt”.
Gray’s state did not allow her to inflict punishment. Much of her 37-page report was devoted to a detailed account of events, including a party in May 2020 in Downing Street Park where “the Prime Minister brought cheese and wine from his apartment” and a party the following month “one individual was ill” and “a slight altercation occurred” between two other people.
At another party the night before the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, Prince Philip, revelers in the garden broke a hammock belonging to Johnson’s young son, Wilf, and celebrated until 4 a.m.
The report includes emails and WhatsApp messages indicating that employees know they are breaking the rules. One invitation from “An Evening of Wine and Cheese” has been changed to a “Year-end Rendezvous with Wine and Cheese”. On another occasion, an employee warned that reporters would be in the building for a press conference and that people should avoid “walking around waving bottles of wine”.
In measured civil service language, Gray criticized the behavior of those involved. She said there were “multiple examples of lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff,” describing this as “unacceptable”.
“Many would be horrified that this kind of behavior occurred on such a scale in the heart of government,” Gray wrote. “The public has a right to expect the highest standards of behavior in such places and it is clear that what happened did not live up to that.”
Johnson clung to power despite the scandal, in part because the Russian invasion of Ukraine diverted public and political attention. Some Conservatives argue that it would be too quick to fire Johnson now, whatever his flaws.
Conservatives have also tried to dismiss criticism by noting that Starmer’s Labor is also facing a police investigation for drinking beer and curry with co-workers in April 2021. He insists the meal was part of a working day and did not violate any rules, but said he would resign if he was fined by police. .
Now that Gray and the police have finished their investigation, Johnson’s fate is in the hands of the Conservative Party, which has a history of shedding leaders who have become responsibilities. Tory MPs say they have received angry letters from voters, and many are uneasy about defending the sequence for breaking the rules.
Johnson faces an investigation by the Commons Standards Committee into whether he lied to Parliament. Gray’s conclusions could revive calls from Conservative lawmakers for a vote of no confidence in the leader who won a large parliamentary majority in 2019. Under party rules, such a vote would take place if 15% of party lawmakers – currently 54 – wrote letters calling for one.
If Johnson loses such a vote, he will be replaced as Conservative leader and prime minister. It’s unclear how many messages have been sent so far, although another one was sent on Wednesday. Conservative lawmaker Julian Sturdy said: “I am now unable to give the prime minister the benefit of the doubt and feel it is in the public interest now for him to resign.”
Johnson received a warm welcome from Tory MPs at a special meeting in Parliament on Wednesday night. Those present described him as serious and conciliatory.
“He’s in the perfect mood,” said lawmaker Jonathan Jules.
But another Conservative, Tobias Ellwood, said in the House of Commons that Johnson had lost his support.
“The question I humbly put to my colleagues,” he said, “are you ready day in and day out to defend this behavior publicly?” “
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