“I want to say sorry… I understand the anger that people feel. We must look at ourselves in the mirror and we must learn,” Johnson told MPs as he accepted a damning report by senior civil servant Sue Gray regarding lockdown-breaching government parties on official premises.
The apology came hours after Gray “provided an update on her investigations to the Prime Minister”.
Allegations that the PM and his staff flouted restrictions imposed on the country to curb the spread of the coronavirus had caused public anger, and led some Conservative lawmakers to call for Johnson’s resignation and triggered intense infighting inside the governing party.
Johnson had denied personal wrongdoing and had told Parliament that he didn’t know anything about any illegal parties.
But Johnson’s grip on power was weakened by allegations that he and his staff flouted restrictions they imposed on the country in 2020 and 2021 to curb the spread of the coronavirus with “bring your own booze” office parties, birthday celebrations and “wine-time Fridays”.
The report by Gray mentions that “against the backdrop of the pandemic, when the government was asking citizens to accept far-reaching restrictions on their lives, some of the behavior surrounding these gatherings is difficult to justify”.
Other salient points in report
* At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of Government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time.
* At times it seems there was too little thought given to what was happening across the country in considering the appropriateness of some of these gatherings, the risks they presented to public health and how they might appear to the public. There were failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times. Some of the events should not have been allowed to take place. Other events should not have been allowed to develop as they did.
* The use of the garden at No 10 Downing Street should be primarily for the Prime Minister and the private residents of No 10 and No 11 Downing Street. During the pandemic it was often used as an extension of the workplace as a more covid secure means of holding group meetings in a ventilated space. This was a sensible measure that staff appreciated, but the garden was also used for gatherings without clear authorisation or oversight. This was not appropriate. Any official access to the space, including for meetings, should be by invitation only and in a controlled environment.
(With input from agencies)