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NewsSue Gray's Partygate report is FINALLY published as PM...

Sue Gray’s Partygate report is FINALLY published as PM feels the heat

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Boris Johnson is battling for political survival today after Sue Gray’s report into the Partygate scandal was finally published insisting he and civil service leaders must take ‘responsibility’.

The 37-page verdict from the top civil servant on lockdown-flouting in Whitehall was finally released this morning, around an hour after it was handed to the PM.

It includes nine photographs featuring Mr Johnson, Rishi Sunak and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case. 

Four are from the PM’s birthday ‘party’ in the Cabinet Room in June 2020 – over which he was fined along with Mr Sunak – and five are from a leaving do from a top civil servant in November 2020.   

The tangible evidence could reignite a Tory revolt that appeared to have fizzled out after police did not add to Mr Johnson’s single FPN.

Ms Gray said in her conclusions: ‘The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.’

She said: ‘Whatever the initial intent, what took place at many of these gatherings and the way in which they developed was not in line with Covid guidance at the time. 

‘Even allowing for the extraordinary pressures officials and advisers were under, the factual findings of this report illustrate some attitudes and behaviours inconsistent with that guidance. 

‘It is also clear, from the outcome of the police investigation, that a large number of individuals (83) who attended these events breached Covid regulations and therefore Covid guidance.’ 

How ‘Sue Gray Day’ is set to happen 

After nearly six months of damaging revelations, senior civil servant Sue Gray is delivering her final report on Partygate today.

11.45am: The document – including photos – has been published by Downing Street.

12.40pm: After facing off with Keir Starmer at the weekly session, Boris Johnson will then make a statement to MPs on the report – in which he is planning to issue a fresh apology.

3.30pm? The premier is then planning to hold a press conference in the afternoon.

5pm: To round off his ‘masochism strategy’ Mr Johnson is due to run the gauntlet of angry Tory MPs at a behind-closed-doors meeting of the 1922 Committee.   

It is understood that Mr Case is not set to be sacked over the scandal, following rumours he could carry the can despite not being given an FPN himself.  

A leaked image ahead of the report today shows an unidentified No10 staffer surrounded by bottles of booze and snacks. According to the Mirror, one worker had posted on a WhatsApp group: ‘Time to open the Covid secure bar.’ 

It comes after damning testimony from whistleblowers revealed that staff enjoyed raucous ‘wine time’ bashes, on one occasion allegedly mocking a security guard who warned that their behaviour was unacceptable.   

Mr Johnson will attempt to defuse rising anger with an apology-laden ‘masochism strategy’ today, making a statement to Parliament followed by a press conference and an address to Conservative MPs this evening.

He could be helped by the fact that Keir Starmer himself is facing a police investigation into whether he broke lockdown on an election campaign visit to Durham last year.  

Ministers are then hoping to shift the agenda on as swiftly as possible by announcing a fresh cost-of-living bailout that could be worth £10billion, part-funded by a windfall tax on surging profits at energy firms.

However, a particularly damning verdict from Ms Gray could yet spark MPs sending more no-confidence letters to the chair of the powerful Tory 1922 committee – with 54 required to trigger a full vote on whether to oust Mr Johnson. 

Mr Johnson is also facing an inquiry by the Commons Privileges Committee into whether he misled Parliament by insisting there were no parties in Downing Street.

That included specifically denying anything happened on November 13, 2020, when there is photographic evidence that he gave a speech and made a toast at a leaving do for one of his spin doctors.  

A group of pictures released by Sue Gray show the PM's birthday party in June 2020 - over which he was fined along with Rishi Sunak and his wife Carrie

A group of pictures released by Sue Gray show the PM’s birthday party in June 2020 – over which he was fined along with Rishi Sunak and his wife Carrie

Boris Johnson is bracing for a stormy day after Sue Gray finally delivered the findings of her long-awaited report public today

Boris Johnson is bracing for a stormy day after Sue Gray finally delivered 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 event in November 2020)

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 event in November 2020)

Ministers are braced for the fallout from the verdict of Ms Gray (pictured in Westminster earlier this year)

Ministers are braced for the fallout from the verdict of Ms Gray (pictured in Westminster earlier this year)

Cost-of-living bailout could come in days 

Billions of pounds of state support for families hit by the cost of living crisis will be announced in days.

With officials warning that energy bills are on course to hit almost £3,000, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak are working on a major intervention that could be unveiled as soon as tomorrow.

The move – initially planned for the summer – has been fast-tracked amid concerns the Government risks looking out of touch.

Senior Tories believe it could also help the Prime Minister ‘move on’ from the Partygate scandal, which is set to dominate headlines today when Whitehall ethics chief Sue Gray finally publishes her report into the affair.

It follows a warning from Ofgem yesterday that the energy price cap is on course to rise by another £800 to £2,800 in October.

In a round of interviews this morning, Cabinet minister George Eustice previewed the line that Mr Johnson is likely to take, arguing the PM had not lied to MPs.

‘Ministers and politicians are not supposed to knowingly mislead Parliament,’ the Environment Secretary told Sky News.

‘The Prime Minister himself has also given a very clear account of his own understanding of all of those events that he attended, that he didn’t regard them as parties, that he didn’t regard them as breaking the rules.

‘He has explained that, that was his understanding, and obviously where the police have said there were particular failings on his part, in respect of the birthday party where the cake was brought in, he has acknowledged that and paid that fixed-penalty notice.’

Mr Eustice said: ‘Clearly what happened in No 10 is a culture developed where they were working there, it was their place of work, and there were times when they would have a drink at the end of the day.’

The Environment Secretary told Times Radio: ‘That boundary between what was acceptable and what wasn’t got blurred and that was a mistake and Sue Gray highlighted that in her first interim report and I think she is almost certainly going to say more about that when her final report comes out.

‘The Prime Minister himself has accepted that and recognises there were of course failings and therefore there’s got to be some changes to the way the place is run.’

One government source said: ‘He’s going to take it on the chin. 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.

Partygate timeline 

2020

– March 23: First Covid lockdown begins. Non-essential shops are closed and Britons are legally required to stay at home. 

– April 5: Boris Johnson is admitted to hospital with Covid. He later spends days in intensive care before recovering and leaving hospital on April 12.

– May 15: Cheese and wine in the No 10 garden. A photograph emerged of a number of groups gathered in the No 10 garden, including Mr Johnson, Carrie Johnson, and aides Dom Cummings and Martin Reynolds sitting together on the terrace. Not investigated by police.

– May 20: Bring Your Own Booze party. A leaked email shows No 10 staff were invited to an event in the Downing Street garden. Mr Johnson has admitted he was there for 25 minutes, but said he thought it was a ‘work event’.

June 1: First lockdown begins to ease. Public permitted to meet outside in groups of up to six people. Meeting indoors is still banned.  

– June 18 2020: Cabinet Office leaving do. Sue Gray’s interim report said a gathering in the 70 Whitehall building was held to mark the departure of a No 10 private secretary. The Telegraph said 20 people attended, with alcohol consumed.

– June 19 2020: Boris Johnson’s 56th birthday. He, his wife Carrie and Rishi Sunak were all fined for attending surprise get-together in Cabinet Room.

– September 14: Rising cases led to the re-introduction of ‘rule of six’ indoors and outdoors. By the end of the month, the work from home begins again and a 10pm curfew came into force for pubs, bars and restaurants

– November 5: Second national lockdown begins. Non-essential businesses close and people banned from meeting indoors with anyone not in their ‘support bubble’ 

– November 13: Downing Street flat do. Mrs Johnson reportedly hosted parties in the official flat over No 11 where she and Mr Johnson live, including one event on November 13, the night of Dominic Cummings’ acrimonious departure. A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s wife called the claim ‘total nonsense’.

– November 13: As shown in pictures released today Mr Johnson attended event for Lee Cain, his departing director of communications and a close ally of Dom Cummings.

– November 27 2020: Another special adviser leaves. Mr Johnson reportedly gave a leaving speech at a gathering for Cleo Watson, another ally of Mr Cummings. Not investigated by police.

– December 10 2020: Department for Education Christmas drinks. Then education secretary Gavin Williamson reportedly threw a party and delivered a short speech. Not investigated by police. 

– December 15 2020: An online Christmas quiz in No 10. The Prime Minister appeared on contestants’ screens at the quiz but insisted he broke no rules. Not investigated by police.

– December 17: Cabinet Office ‘Christmas party’.  It was reported the do had been organised by a private secretary in Cabinet Secretary Simon Case’s team, and that it was included in digital calendars as: ‘Christmas party!’ and included an online quiz.

– December 17: Leaving drinks for former Covid Taskforce head Kate Josephs in the Cabinet Office. She later apologised.

– December 17: No 10 leaving do attended by PM, reported to be for Captain Steve Higham, then one of Mr Johnson’s private secretaries 

– December 18: Downing Street Christmas party, featuring speeches, a cheese board, drinks and a Secret Santa gifts.

2021 

– January 4: Third lockdown begins following a rapid rise in Covid cases

– January 14: More Downing Street leaving drinks to mark the departure of two private secretaries. The other official’s identity is so far unknown.

– April 16: Leaving drinks on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral. Downing Street apologised to Buckingham Palace after reported details emerged of boozy drinks parties, including one for outgoing communications director James Slack.

November 30: First report of potentially illegal gatherings within Downing Street emerge.

December 7:  Mr Johnson says: ‘I am satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times.’  

December 7: ‘Footage emerged showing press secretary Allegra Stratton joking about the alleged party in 2020 leaked to ITV News. She later resigns.

December 8: Scotland Yard refuses to investigate, citing an ‘absence’ of evidence

2022

January 25: After weeks of further revelations, Scotland Yard launches Operation Hillman, an investigation into allegations of Partygate lawbreaking

January 31: Sue Gray releases her interim report into Partygate 

February 4: Five No10 aides resign over their role in Partgate, including Dan Rosenfield and comms chief Jack Doyle

March 29: Detectives issue the first 20 fixed penalty notices to people working in No10 for breaches of Covid laws.

April 12: A further 30 fines are issued, including to Mr Johnson, his wife Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak. 

May 12: Scotland Yard revealed it has issued more than 100 fines.

May 19: Scotland Yard reveals it has completed Operation Hillman, issuing 126 fines to 83 people in total.

May 25: Ms Gray’s report was finally delivered to the PM and published.

‘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.’

Despite the dismissive words, Ms Gray’s report is expected to deliver a scathing verdict on the culture at the heart of Government during the pandemic.

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 he wants to be leader, 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.’

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, No10 denied swirling claims that Mr Johnson urged Ms 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.’

Downing Street staff have broken cover to claim they only joined in lockdown parties because Mr 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.

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 told BBC Panorama: ‘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.’

Whitehall ethics chief (and former pub landlady) who previously ended the careers of ministers

Sue Gray is a former pub landlady turned civil servant who has had Westminster-watchers on the edge of their seats for months. 

But as rumours swirled about what her investigation may or may not contain and what it meant for the future of Boris Johnson and those around him she kept out of the limelight. 

If her final, complete report results in scalps, they will not be the first she has taken. 

In her former job as director-general of propriety and ethics in the Cabinet Office she had enormous power and long experience in Westminster scandals, and developed a fearsome reputation among ministers and officials. 

Whitehall heavy hitter Sue Gray is carrying out out inquiries into three alleged gatherings at No10 and the Department for Education in November and December last year, when indoor mixing was banned.

Whitehall heavy hitter Sue Gray is carrying out out inquiries into three alleged gatherings at No10 and the Department for Education in November and December last year, when indoor mixing was banned.

It saw her described as the most powerful civil servant you have never heard of. 

Epithets applied to the 64-year-old include ‘all-powerful’, ‘formidable’ and ‘enforcer’. 

Former Cabinet Minister Sir Oliver Letwin once playfully posited: ‘Our great United Kingdom is actually entirely run by a lady called Sue Gray. Nothing moves in Whitehall unless Sue says so.’

Her inquiry into the so-called Plebgate affair in 2012 led to the resignation of minister Andrew Mitchell for verbally abusing police on duty in Downing Street.

And her investigation into Damian Green led to his forced resignation in 2017 after she discovered he had lied about pornography found on his Commons computer.

But her life has not been completely standard mandarin. In the 1980s she was a pub landlady, running the Cove Bar near Newry in Northern Ireland with her husband Bill Conlan, a joiner and country and western singer from Portaferry in County Down.

The couple married in March 1985 at Newtownards register office near Belfast while Sue was taking a career break.

At this time, Newry was a key battleground between the British Army and the IRA. A month before their wedding, nine police officers were killed and 40 people injured in an IRA mortar attack on the RUC base in the town.

Last year she told the BBC: ‘I loved it, loved it at the time, I’d never do it again.’

Her parents were poor but hard-working Irish immigrants to Britain – her father, Leo, a furniture salesman, and her mother, Anastasia, a long-serving barmaid – who settled in Tottenham, North London, in the early 1950s. Sue was born in 1957, followed by her brother Kevin three years later, and went to a Catholic school in North London.

In 1987, the couple returned to London where their two sons, Liam and Ciaran, were born.

Sue resumed her Civil Service career, working across Whitehall in transport, health and work and pensions, before joining the Cabinet Office in the late 1990s.

In January she was drafted in from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities after Cabinet Secretary Simon Case quit his role leading the inquiry.

He was forced to step down after it emerged a December 2020 quiz was held in his own department that he was aware of and spoke at. 

From 2018 to 2021 she served as the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Finance at the Northern Ireland Executive.

She returned to London to head up work on the Union in 2021. But she admitted last year she wuld not have come back to London if she had won the top Civil Service post in Northern Ireland.

She applied to run the service  after the retirement of previous boss David Sterling, but the powersharing executive overlooked her and two other candidates, leaving the post unfilled.

She told the BBC at the time: ‘Why didn’t I get the job? I’m not sure I’ll ever quite know but I suspect, you know, I suspect people may have thought that I perhaps was too much of a challenger, or a disrupter.

‘I am both. Perhaps I would bring about… too much change.’

Which Whitehall bashes did the police issue fines for?

– May 20, 2020: BYOB garden party

A leaked email from senior civil servant Martin Reynolds to more than 100 Downing Street employees invited them to ‘bring your own booze’ for an evening gathering.

The PM admitted attending the gathering, but previously insisted he believed it was a work event which could ‘technically’ have been within the rules.

– June 18, 2020: Cabinet Office gathering

A gathering in the Cabinet Office on this date was being investigated by the police. The event was apparently held to mark the departure of a Number 10 private secretary. 

– June 19, 2020: Birthday party for the PM

Downing Street admitted staff ‘gathered briefly’ in the Cabinet Room after a meeting. Reports suggested up to 30 people attended and the PM was presented with a cake. 

The PM, his wife Carrie Johnson – said to have organised the bash – and Chancellor Rishi Sunak have all received fines.

Reports said Lulu Lytle, the interior designer behind lavish renovations of Mr and Mrs Johnson’s No 10 flat, briefly attended while undertaking work in Downing Street.    

– November 13, 2020: Leaving party for senior aide and Abba Party

According to reports at the time, Mr Johnson gave a leaving speech for Lee Cain, his departing director of communications and a close ally of Dominic Cummings. 

The latter walked out the front door of Downing Street carrying a box of his belongings that night after losing a bitter power struggle with Mrs Johnson.   

There were also claims a party with loud Abba music was held in the No11 flat that evening to celebrate the ousting of Mr Cain and Mr Cummings. 

The premier is thought to have insisted he was interviewing one of those present for a potential job at the second event. 

– December 17, 2020: Cabinet Office ‘Christmas party’

A gathering was held in the Cabinet Office on December 17.

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case is said to have attended the party in room 103 of the Cabinet Office.

It was apparently organised by a private secretary in Mr Case’s team, and included in digital calendars as: ‘Christmas party!’

The Cabinet Office confirmed a quiz took place, but a spokesman said: ‘The Cabinet Secretary played no part in the event, but walked through the team’s office on the way to his own office.’

– December 18, 2020: Christmas party at Downing Street

The claim that kicked off the rule-breaking allegations is that a party was held for Downing Street staff on December 18.

Officials and advisers reportedly made speeches, enjoyed a cheese board, drank together and exchanged Secret Santa gifts, although the PM is not thought to have attended.

Mr Johnson’s spokeswoman, Allegra Stratton, quit after being filmed joking about it with fellow aides at a mock press conference – although it is not clear whether she attended. 

– January 14, 2021: Number 10 leaving do for two staff members

The Sue Gray update previously revealed that an event in Downing Street for the departure of two No10 private secretaries was being looked at by the police. 

– April 16, 2021: Drinks and dancing the night before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral

Advisers and civil servants gathered after work for two separate events on the Friday night.

They were marking the departure of James Slack, Mr Johnson’s former director of communications, and one of the PM’s personal photographers.

Mr Slack, who left his Number 10 role to become deputy editor-in-chief of The Sun newspaper, said he was sorry for the ‘anger and hurt’ caused by his leaving do, while Downing Street apologised to the Queen.

Mr Johnson is not believed to have been in Downing Street that day and is said to have been at Chequers.

Accounts from witnesses said alcohol was drunk and guests danced to music, adding that it had been told that around 30 people attended both events combined.

We thought it was OK because Boris was there too, say No. 10 staffers

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’.

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