The ‘partygate’ scandal that engulfed Boris Johnson and his close team earlier this year returns to center stage on Wednesday when the long-awaited official report is finally released.
Senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report has been delivered to the British Prime Minister, according to the government. It will soon be made public and Johnson will address Parliament on its findings.
The findings follow the release of more photos and stories this week of lockdown-breaking parties at Johnson’s office and residence in Downing Street.
The report is expected to give more details of the many parties and social gatherings that took place at the heart of the government – at a time when it imposed strict lockdown rules on the rest of the population in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID- 19 .
This week, ITV News published photos appearing to show Johnson raising a glass of wine and delivering a speech at a rally on Nov. 13, 2020. Several open bottles are visible on the table next to him. The event was a staff going away party, the broadcaster said.
Asked about it in parliament in December last year, the Prime Minister denied the existence of a party and said he was sure that “the rules were followed at all times”.
But the BBC’s Panorama investigative program broadcast on Tuesday quoted insiders describing crowded parties, with some people staying all night and others arriving at work in the morning to find empty bottles around the building.
Johnson was fined by police for attending a rally celebrating his birthday during the lockdown, but escaped further punishment. The first sitting prime minister to break the law, he apologized for the Downing Street culture but rejected calls for his resignation.
Police issued a total of 126 fines to 83 people, most of whom were considered subordinates. Johnson’s wife and Britain’s finance minister also said they paid fines.
Critics, including some within the ruling Conservative Party, said the latest photos prove the prime minister lied to parliament – traditionally a matter of resignation – and called on Johnson to step down. A parliamentary inquiry into whether Johnson misled parliament is also to be reported.
Ministers came to the Prime Minister’s defence, stressing that he had apologized and that the police investigation was over.
Boris Johnson has faced several scandals in his past and has so far survived.
Since the outbreak of the “partygate” scandal, he has clung to power, and the political context has been modified by the Russian war in Ukraine and the rising cost of living. Some said it would be wrong to expel the country’s leader at a time of international and national crisis.
However, Johnson’s supporters fear that while Gray’s report includes brighter evidence that government staff partied while ordinary people avoided social contact – many were unable to visit sick relatives or attend at a funeral – then public anger could be rekindled.