Sue Gray Report: 6 Key Takeaways From The Partygate Investigation

There was "wine on the walls", "sick", and bad treatment of cleaners. But "we seem to have got away with it".
Boris Johnson raises a toast at Lee Cain's leaving do
Boris Johnson raises a toast at Lee Cain's leaving do
Sue Gray

Six months since the first revelations about lockdown busting parties held in Downing Street and Whitehall, Sue Gray has finally delivered her report into law breaking at the top of government.

The report details what happened at a series of gatherings during England’s lockdowns.

Police have issued 126 fines for rule breaches, with the PM having received a single fixed-penalty notice for his birthday party.

Gray’s report is based on interviews with No.10 staff and includes whatsapp messages and photographs.

Here are five key things you need to know from the 37-page document published on Wednesday.

1) Who was to blame?

Gray says the “senior leadership”, both “political and official”, in Boris Johnson’s administration must “bear responsibility” for allowing the government’s own laws to be broken.

She concludes while there was “no excuse” for anyone at any level to break the rules, the direction came from the top.

“It is important to acknowledge that those in the most junior positions attended gatherings at which their seniors were present, or indeed organised,” she says.

“Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen. It is also the case that some of the more junior civil servants believed that their involvement in some of these events was permitted given the attendance of senior leaders.

“The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.”

2) ‘Red wine on the walls’

The report contains specific details about what happened at various gatherings.

At multiple parties staff were found to have “drank excessively”. At one event someone “was sick” and there was “a minor altercation” between two people.

At another there was “red wine spilled on one wall and on a number of boxes of photocopier paper”.

The parties often went on late. On April 16, the night before Prince Phillip’s funeral, the last staff member left a gathering at 4:20am.

Social distancing “did not happen” despite warnings that it should. A “karaoke machine which was set up” at one gathering. A child’s swing and slide in the No.10 garden was “damaged”.

This photo of Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak on the PM's birthday is included in the Gray report. Both men were fined by the police for this gathering.
This photo of Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak on the PM's birthday is included in the Gray report. Both men were fined by the police for this gathering.
Sue Gray Report/Cabinet Office via PA Media

3) Garden party a ‘comms risk’

On May 20, 2020, there was a gathering in the Downing Street garden of 30-40 people. Some have been issued fines by police for attending.

It was organised by Martin Reynolds, who was then the PM’s principal private secretary. In an email to staff, he asked them to “bring your own booze”.

The garden party took place as a Downing Street Covid press conference was ending.

An email shows one No.10 staffer suggested people be “mindful” there would be cameras so should not be “walking around waving bottles of wine”.

Gray has found Lee Cain, then No.10 communications director, also warned Reynolds against it.

In an email he wrote: “I’m sure it will be fine - and I applaud the gesture - but a 200 odd person invitation for drinks in the garden of No.10 is somewhat of a comms risk in the current environment.”

Following the partygate revelations in the press, Reynolds quit No.10. He is reportedly being lined to become UK ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

4) ‘We seem to have got away with it’

The Gray report also includes a whatsapp message sent by Reynolds on a later date to a government special adviser in which the May 20 event is referenced.

Perhaps mindful that the event had broken the Covid rules, he says “we seem to have got away with” it.

Sue Gray report

5) ‘Unacceptable’ treatment of cleaners

Downing Street is staffed with civil servants and political appointees. But as with any office it also has many other people working there.

Gray says some staff had either “witnessed or been subjected to behaviours” which “they had felt concerned about but at times felt unable to raise properly”.

“I was made aware of multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff. This was unacceptable,” she says.

More detail on this was reported by BBC Panorama, which revealed No.10 staff “made fun” of a security guard when they tried to stop a “party in full flow”.

6) ‘Abba party’ not investigated

Gray’s report is also notable for what is not in it. On November 13, 2020, a gathering was held in the PM’s No.10 flat. It has been reported Carrie Johnson was present. Abba music was reportedly heard being played.

Gray says the prime minister attended, as did five special advisers. Food and alcohol were made available.

But the Metropolitan Police decided not to issue fines for the event. And Gray says she therefore decided it was “not appropriate or proportionate” for her to conduct any further investigation.

The full Sue Gray report into the partygate scandal can be read on the government website here.


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