“The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.”
The report included photos of Prime Minister Boris Johnson drinking at various gatherings. The highly anticipated report — British journalists were calling Wednesday “Sue Gray Day” — was put on hold until the conclusion of a separate police investigation into rule-breaking events.
The scandal has threatened to derail Johnson’s leadership after a slow drip of revelations over six months, and the report may reignite public anger at a time when the national mood is souring during a cost-of-living crisis.
The report was acknowledged by Downing Street less than two hours before Johnson was to appear before Parliament for a regular question period.
A police investigation into the dozen gatherings during the pandemic concluded last week, determining that 83 government officials violated their own lockdown rules, including the prime minister, his wife, Carrie, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak. Johnson is the first British prime minister to be found to have broken the law while in office.
Opposition leader Keir Starmer called the police revelations an “industrial-scale lawbreaking in Downing Street.”
Gray’s inquiry covers 16 gatherings, four more than the police investigation, between May 15, 2020, and April 16, 2021. She is expected to be highly critical of the culture at Downing Street — presided over by Johnson.
There is speculation that her report may include photographs of illegal gatherings. A hint of what the report may contain came earlier in the week when the British broadcaster ITV published pictures of Johnson raising a glass alongside a group at No. 10, next to a table laden with bottles of wine. The picture was reportedly taken in November 2020 at a leaving party for Johnson’s communications chief. At the time, England was in lockdown.
Some have questioned why Johnson wasn’t fined for this event. He received one fine for attending a birthday party in his honor in June 2020 when indoor mixing was banned.
Polls show that the majority of Brits think Johnson should resign over the scandal, but he has shown, on more than one occasion, that he can ride out scandals that would topple most other politicians. His allies have defended his resolve to stay, citing among the reasons Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where the U.K. is playing an outsize role in military support.
An interim report by Gray earlier this year determined that the parties involved “failures of leadership and judgment.”
Johnson has made it clear he has no intention of resigning. His fate rests in the hands of fellow Conservative lawmakers, who can trigger a leadership contest by providing 54 no-confidence letters. Even as he refuses calls to leave, Johnson’s popularity ratings have tumbled since the lockdown breaches were revealed.
“When you look at his approval ratings now, they are not the kind of approval ratings that a prime minister normally comes back from,” said Chris Curtis, head of political polling at Opinium Research.
He said the Conservative Party has lost its reputation for economic competence over recent months, with the costs of fuel and food rising dramatically. Inflation is now at 9 percent, a 40-year high.
“But the biggest thing that has ruined Boris Johnson’s reputation is undoubtedly ‘partygate,’ ” Curtis said. He said that if there was an election today, polls suggest that Johnson and the Conservative Party would be out of government.
The fact that the opposition Labour Party can see a route to power is a remarkable change of events from the 2019 election, when Johnson won the Conservatives an 80-seat majority.
But Conservative lawmakers are not maneuvering in any great numbers to oust Johnson. Analysts say this is in part because there’s no obvious successor and because Johnson has been known to bounce back from other problems.