Johnson promises change in Number 10 amid 'partygate' investigation

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Johnson Promises Change In Number 10 Amid 'Partygate' Investigation Johnson Promises Change In Number 10 Amid 'Partygate' Investigation
Downing Street partygate, © PA Wire/PA Images
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By David Hughes, Sam Blewett and Geraldine Scott, PA Political Staff

Boris Johnson promised to make major changes to the way he runs the UK government as it emerged police are investigating alleged breaches of coronavirus rules at the British prime minister’s birthday celebration and a gathering in his Downing Street flat.

As he battled to save his premiership, the British prime minister apologised on Monday and insisted “I get it and I will fix it” as he faced fresh calls to resign after Sue Gray’s limited inquiry criticised “failures of leadership and judgment”.

But Ms Gray’s full investigation into claims of lockdown-busting parties in Number 10 and Whitehall has been sidelined while the Metropolitan Police look into 12 separate alleged breaches of the rules in 2020 and 2021.

They include events where the prime minister has admitted being present and another in the flat he shares with his wife Carrie Johnson in Downing Street.

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Ms Gray’s limited update on the state of her investigation contained little detail, due to the police investigation, but was still scathing about the culture and leadership which led to the events at a time when most of the population was abiding by Covid-19 restrictions.

In response to mounting pressure from Tory MPs, Downing Street confirmed that Mr Johnson would publish an updated report from Ms Gray once the police investigation has concluded.

Addressing a meeting open to the whole Conservative parliamentary party on Monday evening, Mr Johnson again committed to publishing the report in full.

He told MPs he was taking the issue seriously, underling how he had nearly died from coronavirus.

While reports suggested he had told his party that election strategist Lynton Crosby would be offering him strategic advice.

Election strategist Lynton Crosby arrives at 10 Downing Street. (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Following the meeting, Peterborough MP Paul Bristow acknowledged it had been a “difficult day” but said there was support for Mr Johnson.

Mr Bristow said he left “absolutely pumped” and added that nobody in the meeting had called for Mr Johnson to go.

Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg said the “mood was positive” among Conservatives.

He said: “We’ve got to remember how well the Prime Minister has done in the general run of being Prime Minister.”

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He added: “So many people voted personally for Boris Johnson rather than voting for political parties.

“Politicians have to accept that our bosses are the British people, and they voted for that, they put him in office.”

Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg arrives in Downing Street, London. (Aaron Chown/PA)

Another Tory MP said colleagues were “nodding and smiling” as the prime minister addressed Conservatives.

They said there were “a hundred thousand Russians” on the Ukrainian border and the Commons was “talking about cake”.

They said Mr Johnson apologised during the meeting and the message to him was that MPs would “judge you by your delivery” on promised changes.

It comes after the Met revealed it is reviewing more than 300 images and over 500 pages of information passed to officers by the Gray inquiry.

Mr Rees-Mogg suggested the images should also be published, as he said: “The more people see, the more understanding there will be of precisely what went on.”

Giving a statement to MPs an hour after the Gray update was published, the prime minister said: “Firstly, I want to say sorry – and I’m sorry for the things we simply didn’t get right and also sorry for the way this matter has been handled.

“It’s no use saying this or that was within the rules and it’s no use saying people were working hard. This pandemic was hard for everyone.”

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He added: “I get it, and I will fix it. I want to say to the people of this country I know what the issue is.”

Mr Johnson insisted he was “making changes” to Downing Street and the cabinet office, including by creating an Office of the Prime Minister with a permanent secretary to lead No 10.

But he faced a hostile response from some on his own side and the threat of a vote of no confidence has not yet been defeated.

– Former Cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell told Mr Johnson he “no longer enjoys my support”.

– Former prime minister Theresa May said Mr Johnson either did not “read the rules”, understand them, or “didn’t think the rules applied to No 10”.

– Tory MP Angela Richardson announced she had quit as a ministerial aide to Michael Gove, sharing her “deep disappointment” at the handling of the partygate row.

– Aaron Bell, part of the 2019 intake of Red Wall MPs,  recalled abiding by coronavirus restrictions for his grandmother’s May 2020 funeral before asking: “Does the Prime Minister think I’m a fool?”

New polling on Monday night from Opinium said 62 per cent of UK adults wanted the prime minister to resign, and 64 per cent believed Tory MPs should make him go.

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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the British public wanted Mr Johnson to resign but the prime minister “is a man without shame”.

The former director of public prosecutions said “there can be no doubt the Prime Minister himself is now subject to criminal investigation” but “he gleefully treats what should be a mark of shame as a welcome shield”.

Senior Conservatives including former chief whip Mark Harper joined Mr Starmer in calling for a full Gray inquiry to be published.

Mr Johnson repeatedly refused to confirm that would happen but after he left the UK Commons Chamber officials in No 10 said an updated report would be published once the police investigation is over.

The prime minister refused to tell the Commons whether he was at a party in his No 11 flat on November 13 2020, one of the events being investigated – the night former aides Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain left their roles.

Police were also investigating the June 19th, 2020 event in the Cabinet Room at No 10 to mark the prime minister’s 56th birthday where Mr Johnson was “ambushed by cake”, in the words of minister Conor Burns, although he later insisted there was no cake.

Mrs Johnson reportedly organised the surprise get-together complete with a chorus of “happy birthday” and interior designer Lulu Lytle also admitted attending while carrying out the lavish and controversial work to their Downing Street flat.

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The May 20th, 2020 “bring your own booze” event in the No 10 garden which Mr Johnson attended for 25 minutes, apparently believing it was a work event, is also under investigation.

Ms Gray’s limited report listed 16 events she examined as part of her inquiry, but she said only four of those were not now being investigated by the police.

That meant it was “not possible at present to provide a meaningful report setting out and analysing the extensive factual information I have been able to gather”, she said.

But her conclusions about the wider culture in Downing Street and Whitehall were scathing.

“Against the backdrop of the pandemic, when the Government was asking citizens to accept far-reaching restrictions on their lives, some of the behaviour surrounding these gatherings is difficult to justify,” she said.

“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.”

There was “too little thought” given to what was happening in the country at the time and “failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times”.

The Downing Street garden was used as an extension of the office in a “sensible” precaution against the spread of Covid-19, Ms Gray said, but “was also used for gatherings without clear authorisation or oversight” and “this was not appropriate”.

The report also said “steps must be taken to ensure that every Government department has a clear and robust policy in place covering the consumption of alcohol in the workplace”.

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