Downing Street parties: Regardless of the Sue Gray report, it’s Boris Johnson’s time to go

Composite image of Boris Johnson, Downing Street and Sue Gray
Any self-respecting Prime Minister would have already taken full responsibility for what happened (Picture: PA/Getty/Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street)

We should discover soon whether the Prime Minister knowingly attended a party in the garden of Number 10 – on that could hang his fate.

It seems utterly trivial. But that would be to misread what the Partygate scandal is really all about.

As the story has built over the weeks since it was first revealed that there had reportedly been a party in Downing Street in the run-up to Christmas 2020, the list of parties has grown and grown. At the latest count, at least 13 are under investigation by Sue Gray.

These parties, or ‘work events’ as the Prime Minister has chosen to describe some of them, don’t just reveal a casual – even arrogant – disregard for rules, which bound everyone else.

The early ones reportedly took place in the depths of a pandemic – when Covid-19 was tearing through communities, hospitals were struggling with the number of patients being admitted to ICUs and, crucially, when a vaccine or cure was a pipedream.

They didn’t just demonstrate double standards and hypocrisy, they showed an extraordinarily reckless attitude towards people’s health. So add stupidity to the (very long) charge sheet.

But it won’t be hypocrisy or stupidity that could bring down Boris Johnson, it will be his lies. He told the Commons last week that he believed the May 2020 ‘bring your own booze’ gathering in his garden (that over 100 people were invited to) was a ‘work event’.

If Sue Gray’s report shows that he knew it was a party, that’s proof that he misled Parliament – and that is a resigning issue. Or at least it should be.

As I’ve written in previous columns, Boris Johnson has plenty of form when it comes to misleading Parliament and breaking the Ministerial Code. Yet somehow he remains in his job.

I’m reminded of the verdict from one of his school reports. ‘I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else.’

Boris Johnson thinks he is above the law and he has transmitted that arrogance to those who surround him in Downing Street. How else could staff have thought it was acceptable and appropriate to party, drink and dance on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral at a time of national mourning? The disconnect with the public mood is jaw-dropping.

It’s not only the indifference to the rules that is deeply disturbing. It is the blind eye apparently turned by the police.

When officers were preventing family members coming together at very painful times in their lives because it would have meant two households mixing, dozens of people were boozing, dancing and celebrating under police noses – and they did nothing.

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My Green Party colleague, Baroness Jenny Jones, has been calling for a police investigation since early January. Yet it’s taken until this week for Cressida Dick to announce that the police would be looking into ‘potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations’, because of information handed over by Sue Gray.

It’s hard to believe that this information wasn’t already available to the police if the Met had wanted to investigate.

The fact that the police are now investigating possible law-breaking in Number 10 is astonishing and shows the damage that Boris Johnson has done to the office of prime minister.

In the two and a half years since he’s been in Number 10, the wider harm to our democracy is profound. He has not only unlawfully prorogued Parliament – according to the Supreme Court – he has persistently misled MPs, ignored breaches of the Ministerial Code by his own ministers and eroded trust in government.

Any self-respecting Prime Minister would have already taken full responsibility for what happened in Downing Street and offered to resign. But not this one – this ‘vacuum of integrity’, as he was aptly described by a former Conservative minister.

I have no doubt that Boris Johnson will do everything to try to cling on to office – throwing as many junior colleagues under a bus as he can to save his own skin.

But his premiership is as good as over.

If Conservative MPs and Cabinet ministers had any guts, they would have delivered him that message already instead of shamefully hiding behind the Sue Gray report, waiting for its conclusions before deciding whether to wield the knife – as if the evidence wasn’t there already.   

Our country deserves better. We urgently need a prime minister who will lead a government ready to respond to the huge challenge of the climate and ecological emergency at the speed and scale that the science demands.

Whoever next grabs the keys to Number 10, that must be their priority.

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