British PM insists he won't resign after report blames him for parties during lockdown

An investigation released Wednesday blamed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other senior leaders for allowing boozy government parties that broke the U.K.'s COVID-19 lockdown rules. While Johnson said he took "full responsibility" for the breach, he insisted he would not resign.

Some within Boris Johnson's Conservative Party want him gone over 'partygate'

Boris Johnson apologizes in wake of report detailing lockdown parties

3 months ago
Duration 2:01
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has apologized following the release of a report blaming him and senior officials for a string of alcohol-fuelled parties at 10 Downing Street that broke the government’s own COVID-19 lockdown rules.

An investigation released Wednesday blamed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other senior leaders for allowing boozy government parties that broke the U.K.'s COVID-19 lockdown rules. While Johnson said he took "full responsibility" for the breach, he insisted he would not resign.

Revelations that Johnson and his staff repeatedly flouted restrictions they imposed on the country in 2020 and 2021 have fuelled outrage in Britain and led to calls from opponents for Johnson to step down over the scandal known as "partygate."

Most lawmakers in Johnson's governing Conservative Party have so far stood by him, and it's not yet clear if senior civil servant Sue Gray's much-anticipated report will change that, despite its detailed descriptions of alcohol-fuelled bashes in the building where the prime minister both lives and works.

Gray investigated 16 gatherings attended by Johnson and his staff while U.K. residents were barred from socializing, or even from visiting sick and dying relatives, because of coronavirus restrictions.

Her report concluded that the "senior leadership team … must bear responsibility" for a rule-breaking culture. She said there had been "failures of leadership and judgment" in the prime minister's office at 10 Downing Street.

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"Those in the most junior positions attended gatherings at which their seniors were present, or indeed organized," she said.

A separate police investigation resulted in 83 people getting hit with fines, including Johnson — making him the first British prime minister ever found to have broken the law while in office. 

'Catalogue of criminality'

Speaking to lawmakers after the report was published, Johnson said he took "full responsibility for everything that took place," adding that he was sorry but insisted that he did not knowingly break any rules.

He said he was "humbled" and had "learned a lesson," but that it was now time to "move on" and focus on bolstering the economy.

Critics, some of them inside the Conservative Party, have said Johnson lied to Parliament about the events. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament are expected to resign.

Johnson insisted that when he told Parliament last year no rules were broken and there were no parties, "it was what I believed to be true."

The British media and opposition politicians have found that hard to square with staff members' accounts of "bring your own booze" parties and regular "wine time Fridays" in the Downing Street office at the height of the pandemic.

Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, said Gray's report was a "catalogue of criminality." Starmer said Johnson's government had "treated the sacrifices of the British people with utter contempt."

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaks at the House of Commons in London on Wednesday. (Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament/Reuters)

Gray's mandate did not allow her to mete out punishment. Much of her 37-page report is devoted to a detailed account of the events, including a May 2020 party in the Downing Street garden to which "the Prime Minister brought cheese and wine from his flat" and a party the following month at which "one individual was sick" and "there was a minor altercation between two other individuals."

At another party — held the night before the funeral of Queen Elizabeth's husband, Prince Philip — revellers in the garden broke a swing belonging to Johnson's toddler son Wilf and partied until 4 a.m.

The report includes emails and WhatsApp messages suggesting that staff members knew they were breaking the rules.

One invitation was changed from "Wine and Cheese Evening" to "End of Year Meeting with Wine & Cheese." On another occasion, a staffer warned that journalists would be in the building for a news conference and people should avoid "walking around waving bottles of wine."

"Many will be dismayed that behaviour of this kind took place on this scale at the heart of government," Gray wrote. "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."

Possible confidence vote

Johnson has clung to power despite the scandal, partly because Russia's invasion of Ukraine has diverted public and political attention. Some Conservatives argue that it would be rash to push Johnson out now, whatever his flaws.

Conservatives also have tried to rebuff criticism by pointing out that Labour's Starmer also faces a police investigation for having a beer and a takeout curry with colleagues in April 2021. He insists the meal was part of a working day and broke no rules but has said he will resign if fined by police.

Johnson faces an inquiry by a House of Commons standards committee over whether he lied to Parliament. And Gray's conclusions could revive calls from Conservative lawmakers for a no-confidence vote in the leader who won them a big parliamentary majority just over two years ago. Under party rules, such a vote is triggered if 15 per cent of party lawmakers — currently 54 people — write letters calling for one.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seen during a news conference at 10 Downing Street Wednesday. (Leon Neal/The Associated Press)

If Johnson lost such a vote, he would be replaced as Conservative leader and prime minister. It's unclear how many letters have been submitted so far, though one more was submitted Wednesday. Conservative lawmaker Julian Sturdy said, "I am now unable to give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt and feel it is now in the public interest for him to resign."

Johnson got a warm reception from Tory lawmakers at a private meeting in Parliament Wednesday evening. Attendees described him as solemn and conciliatory.

"He fully gets the mood," said legislator Jonathan Gullis.

But another Conservative, Tobias Ellwood, said in the House of Commons that Johnson had lost his support.

"A question I humbly put to my colleagues is, 'are you willing, day in and day out, to defend this behaviour publicly?' " he said.