Six months after the first revelations about parties in Downing Street during confinement, British politics remains mired in “partygate”. The interminable saga was relaunched on Wednesday, May 25, by the publication in its entirety of the report by senior civil servant Sue Gray. It had been ordered in December 2021, was ready at the end of January, but Scotland Yard had blocked its publication, claiming the launch of its own investigation.
Ms Gray, a civil servant with a reputation for integrity, was only able to reveal excerpts of her work at the time, but the conclusions were already edifying: she listed 16 problematic “gatherings”, between May 2020 and April 2021, and found serious “leadership failures” within Downing Street. The police investigation having been completed in mid-May (and having resulted in the issuance of 126 fines for violation of health rules, including one for the Prime Minister and another for the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak), nothing prevented the senior civil servant from fully lifting the veil on the actions of Boris Johnson, his cabinet and his advisers during the pandemic.
The many details provided throughout the forty pages of the document describe officials who have largely freed themselves from the draconian health rules that they themselves had nevertheless enacted and imposed on the rest of the country: strict ban on gatherings until summer 2020, no more than six people gathered indoors or outdoors, from the fall of the same year.
“Cheese and Wine”
On May 15, 2020, in full “hard” confinement, several people from Downing Street, including the Prime Minister or his special adviser at the time, Dominic Cummings, gathered in the Downing Street gardens to share drinks. Boris Johnson has “brought cheese and wine” from his private flat – located at 11 Downing Street. The “garden party” of May 20, 2020 had been planned for a good week, and despite some reservations expressed in particular by the director of communications at the time (Lee Cain), an email reminder was sent on same day, on behalf of Martin Reynolds, Mr Johnson’s private secretary, to 200 recipients.
On June 18, Helen McNamara, then Chief Ethics Officer at the Cabinet Office, even provided a karaoke system
The following June 18, for a Downing Street official’s farewell drink, prosecco flowed freely and Helen McNamara, then Chief Ethics Officer at the Cabinet Office, even provided a karaoke system. That day, notes Sue Gray, guests drank too much, one of them got sick, and there was even an altercation. The last guest left the premises at 3 a.m.
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