Boris Johnson has told the public to “move on” from the Partygate scandal, despite Sue Gray’s report revealing drunkenness, vomiting and damage at the illegal events and the abuse of cleaners who objected to them.
The long-awaited report sparked fresh calls for the prime minister to quit and also left key unanswered questions – after he twice refused to say what happened at the so-called ‘Abba party’ in his own flat.
It also revealed that Mr Johnson’s former private secretary, Martin Reynolds, was urged to cancel the ‘BYOB party’ staged in the No 10 garden, although no evidence that the prime minister was warned.
But senor cabinet ministers rallied around and only one further Tory MP, Julian Sturdy, broke ranks to call for Mr Johnson to resign, boosting Downing Street’s confidence that he will survive the scandal.
One message sent by Mr Reynolds to another aide and revealed in the report – noting “we seem to have got away with” the BYOB event – appeared to also epitomise how the danger to Mr Johnson has ebbed away.
In the Commons, the prime minister said he was “humbled” by the findings, but defended his decision to attend leaving events for hard working staff to “keep morale as high as possible”.
He argued they had only broken Covid rules after he left – pointing to the fact that he had not been fined for brief appearances – and repeated that he believed they were “work events”.
“I had no knowledge of those subsequent proceedings because I simply wasn’t there,” Mr Johnson insisted – while arguing he was not trying to “mitigate” his responsibility.
“I think that, overwhelmingly, the will of this country is for us now to say thank you to Sue Gray and for us collectively to move on,” he told the Commons.
At a media conference, he pointed to the “biggest war in Europe for 70 years” and a “huge spike in the cost of living”, arguing: “My job to get on and serve the people of this country.”
Later, he told backbench Tories the government should spend no more time on the controversy – while joking that a No 10 alcohol ban would have cost Britain the Second World War.
But there was astonishment that Ms Gray chose not to investigate the alleged ‘Abba party’ in his Downing Street flat, in November 2020, held to mark the departure of Dominic Cummings.
Mr Johnson refused twice to say “what were you, your wife, and five aides doing for several hours with alcohol and snacks”, as one questioner put it – while claiming it was “a work meeting”.
Ken Macdonald, a former director of public prosecutions, said it was “surprising” there was no proper investigation and said the prime minister would be “rather relieved”.
“That would have been particular embarrassing since it took place in his own flat,” Sir Ken told the BBC, adding: “I thought that was a rather serious allegation.”
Over 37 pages, criticising “a serious failure” to abide by the “standards expected of the entire British population”, Ms Gray revealed that:
* After “excessive alcohol consumption”, at a June 2020 party in the Cabinet Office, “one individual was sick. There was a minor altercation between two other individuals”.
Although some staff left around 9pm, it continued with “the last member of staff, who stayed to tidy up, leaving at 03.13” the following day.
* The invitation to a December 2020 press office party was changed on the day from ‘Wine & Cheese Evening’ to read ‘End of Year Meeting with Wine & Cheese.’
“A cleaner who attended the room the next morning noted that there had been red wine spilled on one wall and on a number of boxes of photocopier paper,” the report stated.
* After two separate No 10 parties in April 2021. “a number of individuals gathered near a child’s swing/slide in the garden, damaging it by leaning on and playing with it”.
* There were “multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff. This was unacceptable.”
The senior Cabinet Office mandarin pinned part of the blame on Mr Johnson, stating: “The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.”
Some Conservative MPs repeated their calls for Mr Johnson to quit, former defence minister Tobias Ellwood asking his colleagues: “Are you willing, day in and day out, to defend this behaviour publicly?”
David Davis, the former Brexit minister, said voters backed his earlier call for a resignation, saying: “On the train, in the streets, in the tearoom, everywhere, people say, ‘actually, you were right’.”
Some 65 per cent of voters told the pollsters Savanta ComRes that Mr Johnson should resign, 4 percentage points more than when he received his Covid fine.