An investigation into lockdown parties in Downing Street, which could determine Boris Johnson’s fate, is set to lay bare a ‘wacky’ culture of drinking and impromptu socializing, with little oversight from senior officials, includes the Guardian.
Whitehall sources said the investigation, overseen by senior civil servant Sue Gray, was also likely to uncover other drink-related occurrences in government buildings, as special advisers and civil servants were encouraged to “confess “violations of the lockdown rules.
Gray’s report is eagerly awaited by Tory MPs, some of whom have already called on Johnson to resign after he was forced to apologize for attending a ‘bring your own booze’ rally in Garden No 10 on May 20, 2020 – claiming he believed in it. was a “work event”.
The Prime Minister’s fate could now be in the hands of Gray, who is believed to be still gathering evidence amid Labor claims that Johnson’s explanation and half-apology were unbelievable.
Johnson ducked from a public engagement in Lancashire on Thursday after a close family member tested positive for Covid.
While self-isolation for contacts of coronavirus cases is no longer mandatory, Johnson’s spokesman said the Prime Minister would heed guidelines to limit outside contact as much as possible for seven days after testing .
“As per guidelines, he is reducing contact. He will be working from No 10, carrying out daily tests and limiting contact with others both outside of No 10 and even inside No 10. 10 as well,” they said.
Several Tory MPs, including Scotland party leader Douglas Ross, have said Johnson should resign immediately after reporting on the drinks event that broke the lockdown.
It emerged on Thursday that Johnson would not attend this spring’s Scottish Conservative conference. A Scottish Tory source said: ‘I don’t see how he could really be involved.
Few other MPs have so far publicly joined Ross’ call for Johnson to leave; but many are now awaiting the conclusions of Gray’s inquiry before deciding whether they can continue to support the Prime Minister.
Sources said Gray’s team – based in the Cabinet Office – were still gathering evidence about the drinks parties in Whitehall. These include a pretend Christmas party and Zoom quiz in December 2020, as well as gatherings in the garden on May 15 and 20.
It is understood the team is looking at the culture and management structures within No 10. Sources said investigation staff believed the structures at No 10 were “wacky”.
The revelations, which will challenge Johnson and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case’s handling of No 10, come as Johnson’s cabinet allies have taken to the airwaves to defend him.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries endorsed the idea the Prime Minister might have done nothing wrong, saying his apology was about what the public “perceived to have happened”.
She also argued that it was a good public health decision to use Downing Street Garden for gatherings.
“I don’t accept that he is wrong,” Dorries told Sky News. “What I stand by the Prime Minister for is his apology. He has made it very clear that he understands the upheaval and anger that people felt over what they perceived to have happened and what had been reported. But what we all want is for the investigation to end.
Priti Patel, another loyal Johnson loyalist, appeared to claim the event in Garden No 10 was part of a ‘government working 24/7 at the height of a pandemic’ .
“He was thanking the staff,” the Home Secretary told Sky. “Let’s not forget that it was May 2020, when there was a lot of work.”
Gray’s inquiry will assess why no one saw fit to stop the May 20 rally, after the Prime Minister’s Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds sent an invitation to staff for ‘socially distanced drinks’.
Among the questions that will be asked is why no one felt able to ‘speak out’ about Reynold’s party invitations, even though several people believed they had breached Covid regulations.
The report should present a series of factual statements about the cocktail parties, when and where they took place, how many people attended and, most importantly, their purpose. This will then be compared to the directives of the time.
In theory, Gray could recommend that Johnson be investigated under the ministerial code. But if she did, Johnson would have to decide whether or not to launch an investigation into her own alleged rule violations.
The Metropolitan Police confirmed in a statement that they would not launch their own investigation into the events in Downing Street in May 2020 unless Gray finds evidence of a breach of the rules.
“The Met is in constant contact with the Cabinet Office regarding this investigation. If the investigation identifies evidence of behavior that is potentially a criminal offence, it will be forwarded to the Met for further consideration.
A former Cabinet minister has suggested that even if the Prime Minister is not explicitly condemned in Gray’s report, Tory MPs could act against him, with key council elections imminent. “We are heading for an absolute hammering in May. I think colleagues will want to act before that,” they said.
Gray’s appointment as head of the inquiry came amid an atmosphere of panic in Downing Street, insiders claim. Case resigned in mid-December after allegations surfaced of a drinks event in his own office.
A Conservative adviser who attended meetings in Downing Street during the pandemic pitted the lax Covid security regime in the building against the much stricter rules in place elsewhere in government that have seen many people work from home.
“In No 10 they were told they had to be there: that was a totally different attitude. That’s why Covid tore that building apart. There was no test, there was no bubbles.You can understand why the party happened when you understand this larger culture.
Another senior curator who previously worked in Downing Street said it was not unusual to open a bottle of wine in the office if people were working in the evenings, particularly on Fridays.