Boris Johnson is bracing for the release of yet more Partygate pictures, this time from Downing Street’s official photographers, as Sue Gray prepares to make the findings of her long-awaited report public today.
Mr Johnson is expected to apologise to Parliament, the public and his own MPs over Partygate in a bid to soak up criticism from the official report into the row later today, even with more snaps from No. 10’s vanity photographers poised to hit the press.
Deploying a ‘masochism strategy’, the Prime Minister will ‘take responsibility’ for lockdown rule-breaking in Downing Street, which is set to be savaged in the much-anticipated report.
Ministers are braced for Miss Gray to deliver her report to No. 10 this morning.
In a display of contrition, the PM will then make a statement to Parliament before holding a press conference and then addressing Tory MPs at a meeting of the backbench 1922 Committee.
‘He’s going to take it on the chin,’ said one source. ‘He will apologise, he’ll say ‘We got things wrong’ and he’ll take responsibility.
‘But he’ll also point out that he has already learned many of the lessons – he has made big changes in Downing Street. And he’ll say it has doubled his resolve to deliver for the public.’
Another source predicted that the report would make clear that many others were at fault for the lax culture in No. 10 that allowed a series of rule-breaking events to take place, which have infuriated the public.
‘It happened on his watch, so he has to take responsibility – and he’s happy to say sorry,’ the source said. ‘But all that’s changed since his last apology is that the police have concluded their investigations without giving him another fine.’
Nevertheless, Miss Gray’s report is expected to deliver a scathing verdict on the culture at the heart of Government during the pandemic.
Boris Johnson is bracing for the release of yet more Partygate pictures, this time from Downing Street’s official photographers, as Sue Gray prepares to make the findings of her long-awaited report public today
Deploying a ‘masochism strategy’, the Prime Minister will ‘take responsibility’ for lockdown rule-breaking in Downing Street, which is set to be savaged in the much-anticipated report (Johnson is pictured toasting during a Downing St. party)
The snaps were taken at a gathering in honour of the Downing Street’s then Director of Communications Lee Cain, with eight people pictured standing closely together, as well as the photographer
Ministers are braced for Miss Gray (pictured in Westminster earlier this year) to deliver her report to No. 10 this morning
Her interim report in January criticised ‘failures of leadership and judgment’ in Downing Street and highlighted concerns about a culture of excessive drinking.
The PM has since restructured his No. 10 operation, leading to the departure of a number of senior figures who are expected to face criticism in today’s report.
Downing Street has also imposed an alcohol ban outside of official functions.
Tory whips are on red alert for signs that more backbench MPs may put in letters of no confidence if the PM fails to address Miss Gray’s concerns.
Tory critics last night hinted they may use Partygate to execute a coup.
Tom Tugendhat, the only senior Tory to confirm a leadership bid, said he was ‘talking to colleagues’ about the PM’s future.
Former Tory chief whip Mark Harper plunged the knife in, saying it was ‘not just the events, it’s the fact he’s not been straightforward about it’.
Tory veteran Sir Roger Gale added: ‘He misled us from the despatch box. And, honourably, there is one answer.’
One leading rebel said: ‘A lot of the 2019 intake are getting very unhappy… they are beginning to see that they will not hold their seats if Boris stays.
‘The question is, have they got the guts to do something about it?’
Today’s report is expected to name about 30 senior figures involved in rule-breaking events, including the Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case.
Officials found to have broken the rules could face disciplinary procedures. One insider predicted the report would make grim reading for the Government by setting out details of a string of events where rules were broken.
It was revealed last week that the report will detail how one Cabinet Office leaving do ended up in a boozy fight. A source said: ‘A lot of the details of what went on are out there already. But when people see it all put together there will still be an impact.
‘When people read the details of incident after incident it will be hard to escape the conclusion that this was not very clever and should have been stopped.’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street on May 24, 2022 in London, England. Photographs of Johnson sharing a drink in Downing Street in 2020 during full lockdown have reignited accusations against him, just before the release of a much-anticipated report on ‘partygate’.
The leaks follow a fierce briefing war between No. 10 and Sue Gray’s office following reports of ‘secret’ discussions between both sides
The report is also expected to contain photographs of some events, with people’s faces blanked out. Mr Johnson, his wife Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were each fined £50 for their attendance at a so-called ‘birthday party’ in the Cabinet Room where the PM was presented with a cake between meetings at a time when indoor gatherings were banned.
The Metropolitan Police have faced questions this week over the failure to issue Mr Johnson with more fixed penalty notices following the emergence of a photo showing him raising a glass at a lockdown leaving do for outgoing communications chief Lee Cain in November 2020.
Others at the event were fined, but Mr Johnson was not penalised. There was speculation yesterday that he may have escaped because the event took place in the building where he lives. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted the PM did not believe he was at a lockdown-breaking party in the images showing him raising a glass and surrounded by colleagues and wine bottles.
Mr Shapps said he was ‘angry’ to see the photographs but suggested the Prime Minister may not have been fined over the event because he left the leaving do ‘pretty quick’.
Meanwhile, No. 10 denied claims that Mr Johnson urged Miss Gray to drop plans to publish her report in a private meeting earlier this month. The Times reported that the Prime Minister suggested to the senior civil servant that there was no longer any point in releasing her findings as the facts were ‘all out there’.
But Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said yesterday: ‘This was a legitimate meeting about the process [of publication] rather than the contents of report.
‘The Prime Minister did not ask her to drop the report or not proceed with the report. It was the Prime Minister who commissioned the report. He wants the report to be published.’
We thought it was OK because he was there too, say No. 10 staffers
By Daniel Martin, Policy Editor for The Daily Mail
Khan’s ‘completely inappropriate meddling’ piles pressure on Met
Sadiq Khan has asked the acting head of the Metropolitan Police to explain the force’s decisions over Partygate after pictures emerged of Boris Johnson drinking at a gathering for which he was not fined.
The London mayor (pictured) wrote to Sir Stephen House yesterday to seek answers about the Met’s decisions in individual cases in the investigation, Operation Hillman.
He warned that trust in Scotland Yard was being ‘further eroded’ by a ‘lack of clarity’ around how decisions were made during the inquiry into parties which breached coronavirus laws.
One Whitehall source described Mr Khan’s intervention as ‘completely inappropriate’.
‘It looks like a massive level of political interference,’ the source said. ‘You’ve basically got the Labour police and crime commissioner for London interfering in a Met Police investigation into another party [the Tories]. It’s completely inappropriate.’
Mr Johnson received a fixed-penalty notice (FPN) over a birthday party in the Cabinet Room in June 2020 but was told he would face no further action over other gatherings covered by the police’s Operation Hillman inquiry.
Those included the November 13, 2020 gathering to mark former spin doctor Lee Cain’s departure from No 10, an event at which pictures obtained by ITV apparently showed Mr Johnson raising a toast and drinking wine. The Met has issued 126 FPNs to 83 people involved in a series of events in Downing Street and Whitehall, including the leaving do on November 13, 2020.
A spokesman for Mr Khan said: ‘Sadiq has today written to the acting commissioner of the Met to seek a detailed explanation of the factors which were taken into account by investigating officers when decisions were made about whether to take action in individual cases in the Downing Street Partygate investigation.’
She said Mr Khan requested the Met ‘reassure Londoners by making this explanation to them directly’.
Mr Khan had made clear he would not interfere in operational decisions and the Met has confirmed that Operation Hillman, which looked at the lockdown-busting events in No. 10 and Whitehall, has concluded.
Downing Street staff have broken cover to say they only joined in lockdown parties because Boris Johnson ‘was grabbing a glass for himself’.
Three anonymous No. 10 insiders described in detail regular rule-breaking events while Covid restrictions were in place.
Their evidence to BBC Panorama last night came ahead of the publication of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report into Partygate, which is expected today.
Mr Johnson was already under renewed pressure after images obtained by ITV News showed him raising a glass while surrounded by colleagues and bottles of wine.
Days after ordering England’s second national lockdown, images showed the Prime Minister giving a toast for departing communications chief Lee Cain on November 13, 2020. One witness said: ‘There were about 30 people, if not more, in a room. Everyone was stood shoulder to shoulder, some people on each other’s laps.’
‘Unforgivable’ scenes were described at a party on April 16 last year, the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral. Attendees told of a ‘lively event… a general party with people dancing around’ that became so loud that security guards told them to go into the No. 10 grounds.
‘Everyone grabbed all the drinks, the food, everything, and went into the garden,’ one source said. ‘We all sat around the tables drinking. People stayed the night there.’ The insiders said the events were weekly, with press office drinks put in the diary as ‘WTF’, standing for ‘Wine-Time Friday’.
One former official described often turning up at No. 10 to find it a ‘mess’: ‘There were bottles, empties, rubbish – in the bin, but overflowing – or indeed sometimes left on the table.’ One said a Downing Street security guard, known as a custodian, was mocked when he tried to break up a party.
‘I remember when a custodian tried to stop it all and he was just shaking his head in this party, being like ‘This shouldn’t be happening,’ they said.
Sources say Friday drinks had long been a tradition. ‘We saw it as our own bubble,’ one said. ‘Everything just continued as normal. Social distancing didn’t happen. We didn’t wear face masks. It wasn’t like the outside world.’
One said they felt they had the PM’s permission because ‘he was there’, adding: ‘He may have just been popping through on the way to his flat because that’s what would happen. You know, he wasn’t there saying this shouldn’t be happening. He wasn’t saying, ‘Can everyone break up and go home? Can everyone socially distance? Can everyone put masks on?’ No, he wasn’t telling anybody that. He was grabbing a glass for himself.’
One staffer described watching Mr Johnson denying wrongdoing in the House of Commons: ‘We just sort of looked at each other in disbelief like – why? Why is he denying this when we’ve been with him this entire time, we knew that the rules had been broken, we knew these parties happened?’
One said younger members of the team ‘did not think they were breaking the rules at the time because the Prime Minister was at [the events], some of the most senior civil servants in the country were at them – and were indeed organising some of them’.