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by Louise Wilson and Kirsteen Paterson
25 May 2022
Sue Gray report: Boris Johnson insists he had 'no knowledge' of the extent of partygate

Sue Gray report: Boris Johnson insists he had 'no knowledge' of the extent of partygate

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he takes "full responsibility" for the parties at Downing Street revealed by the Sue Gray report.

But he insisted he had "no knowledge" of the extent of the gatherings because he left early.

Highlighting the long hours worked by civil servants throughout the pandemic, the PM said that it was "appropriate to recognise and thank them for the work they had done".

He said he "briefly attended the gatherings to thank them for their service".

He added he had “no knowledge of the subsequent proceedings because I simply wasn’t there”.

The senior civil servant's full report was published today following the conclusion of the Metropolitan Police inquiry into the scandal.

Boris Johnson, his wife Carrie Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were all issued fines for attending lockdown-busting parties on the government estate.

Gray's report revealed further detail, including a clutch of photographs of the Prime Minister at two gatherings. 

Johnson offered an apology to the House for the "short lunchtime gathering" in June 2020 for which he was fined.

Regarding wider culture at Downing Street, he pointed to steps taken to address issues highlighted in Gray's initial report in January.

"We have learned our lesson," he added.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said the Downing Street door is "one of the great symbols of our democracy" and that the constitution demands on leaders acting "honestly".

He said the Sue Gray report "lays bare the rot that under this Prime Minister has spread throughout Number 10": "When the dust settles and the anger subsides, this report will stand as a monument to the hubris and the arrogance of a government that believed it was one rule for them and another rule for everyone else.

"The details are stark. Five months ago the prime minister told this house all guidance was completely followed in Number 10, yet we now know he attended events on the 17th of December. At least one of those attending has received a fine for it, deeming it illegal.

"We know that on the 18th of December an event was held in which staff drank excessively, which others in the building described as a party, and the cleaners were left to mop up the red wine the next day."

He added: "It is now impossible to defend the prime minister's words to this house." 

Starmer accused the government of trying to "pretend that the prime minister has somehow been exonerated", with the bar set for his conduct "lower than a snake's belly".

The "failure of leadership" described in Gray's report, he said, has left the government "paralysed" during the cost-of-living crisis.

Calling on Conservative MPs to "show leadership" and tell Johnson that "the game is up" and it is "time to pack his bags", he said: "They can act; stop this out of touch, out of control Prime Minister from driving Britain towards disaster. We've waited for the Sue Gray report, the country can't wait any longer".

Johnson responded that Starmer "was not leading many thousands of people in the fight against coronavirus" during the pandemic but "sniping from the sidelines" and "today he is doing it again".

The Prime Minister said: "When people are working very hard together, day in, day out, it can be difficult to draw the boundary between work and socialising."

The SNP’s Ian Blackford called for Johnson to resign as photographs of the Prime Minister at a gathering on 13 November 2020 meant a prior statement was “proven to be untrue”.

Johnson previously told MPs that “no” party had taken place on that date.

Asked directly about it by Labour MP Catherine West in December 2021, the PM added: “I am sure that whatever happened, the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times”.

Blackford said Johnson had shown “contempt” for MPs and the public, and the Sue Gray report was “damning”.

“The charge of misleading parliament is a resignation matter. Will the Prime Minister now finally resign?” he asked.

Johnson reiterated he took “full responsibility” for what happened and insisted the culture at Downing Street was being changed.

Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood called the report "damning", saying the PM knows he "does not have my support". Under heckles from Tory benches, he asked fellow Conservative MPs: "The question I humbly put to my colleagues is are you willing day in and day out to defend this behavior publicly? Can we continue to govern without distraction given the erosion of the trust of the British people and can we win the general election based on this current trajectory.

"If we can't work out what we're going to do then the broad church of the Conservative party will lose the next general election."

Turning to Johnson, he said: "Can he think of any other prime minister who would have allowed such a culture of indiscipline to take place under their watch, and if it did, would they not have resigned?"

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