Boris Johnson on Sue Gray report: what did PM say at PMQs and press conference on partygate findings?

The Prime Minister made a statement at the end of PMQs as well as holding a dedicated press conference in response to the publication of Sue Gray’s Partygate report

The full report, which was published on Wednesday 25 May, heavily criticised the gatherings which took place in Downing Street and Whitehall while strict Covid lockdown rules prohibited the British public from meeting others indoors.

Mr Gray concluded in her report that “senior leadership” must “bear responsibility” for cultivating a culture in which staff felt they could host and attend such parties.

She added the public would be “dismayed” at the findings in the report, with many calling on Mr Johnson to resign.

In response to the report, the Prime Minister, who received one fine for a gathering on 19 June 2020 - his own birthday party, has offered his apologies and said that he has been “humbled” by the experience.

Here’s his full response to Sue Gray’s report.

Boris Johnson has provided his respsonse to Sue Gray’s highly-anticipated Partygate report, both at PMQs and at a dedicated press conference. (Credit: NationalWorld)

Did Boris Johnson apologise for Partygate?

Following a lively Prime Minister’s Questions session on 25 May, Mr Johnson provided a statement in response to the published full report.

He told MPs: “I am grateful to Sue Gray for her report today and I want to thank her for the work she has done, and also to thank the Metropolitan Police for completing their investigation.

“I want to begin by renewing my apology to the House and to the whole country, for the short lunchtime gathering on 19th June 2020 in the Cabinet Room during which I stood at my place at the Cabinet table, and for which I received a Fixed Penalty Notice, and I also want to say, Mr Speaker, above all, that I take full responsibility for everything that took place on my watch.

“Sue Gray’s report has emphasised that it is up to the political leadership in No10 to take the ultimate responsibility, and of course I do.

“But since these investigations have now come to an end, this is my first opportunity to set out some of the context and to explain both my understanding of what happened and also to explain what I have previously said to the House.”

Mr Johnson went on to appear to suggest the gatherings in question were held as a ‘thank you’ to those working “extremely long hours” within government during the pandemic.

He said: “Mr Speaker, those staff working in Downing Street were permitted to continue attending their office for the purpose of work and the exemption under the regulations applied to their work because of the nature of their jobs reporting directly to the Prime Minister.

“These people were working extremely long hours, doing their very best to give this country the ability to fight the pandemic. I appreciate this is no mitigation but it is important to set out the context.

“I’m trying to set out the context, not to mitigate or absolve myself in any way. And the exemption under which they were present in Downing Street includes those circumstances where officials and advisers were leaving the government, and it was appropriate to recognise them and thank them for the work they have done.

“I briefly attended such gatherings to thank them for their service, which I believe is one of the essential duties of leadership and particularly important when people need to feel that their contributions have been appreciated and to keep morale as high as possible.”

What else did Boris Johnson say in PMQs about the Sue Gray report?

However, the Prime Minister said that he was not aware of staff staying at gatherings into the early hours, or of the behaviour of staff at those parties in question.

Ms Gray’s report showed that some staff had left one gathering at 4am, while an “altercation” had taken place between two members of staff and another member of staff had been sick.

Mr Johnson said: “It is clear from what Sue Gray has had to say that several of these gatherings then went on far longer than was necessary.

“They were clearly in breach of the rules and they clearly fell foul of the rules. I have to tell the house because the house will need to know this, and again this is not to mitigate or extenuate

“But I had no knowledge of subsequent proceedings because I simply wasn’t there, and I have been as surprised and disappointed as anyone else in this House as the revelations unfolded.

“And frankly, Mr Speaker, I have been appalled by some of the behaviour, particularly in the treatment of the security and the cleaning staff and I would like to apologise to those members of staff and I expect anyone who behaved in that way to apologise to them as well.”

Towards the end of his statement, Mr Johnson detailed that operational changes in Downing Street have taken place, including a change in senior management, adding: “I am confident that with the changes and new structures that are now in place, we are humbled by the experience and we have learned our lesson.

“And I want to conclude by saying that I am humbled, and I have learned a lesson Mr Speaker. I want to say whatever the failings of No10 and the Cabinet Office throughout this very difficult period and my own, and for which I take full responsibility.”

He finished his address by concluding that the government should “move on and focus on the priorities of the British people”, such as the aftermath of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

What did Boris Johnson say at his press conference about the Sue Gray report?

Boris Johnson held a press conference in response to the publication of the full Sue Gray report on 25 May. (Credit: PA)

During a dedicated Partygate press conference, the Prime Minister reiterated his apologies and told reporters that he “accepts responsibility for the totality of what happened”, adding that he “bitterly regrets it”.

He also commented further on the reports of “disrespectful and poor” behaviour allegedly shown towards cleaning and security staff while the gatherings were ongoing.

Mr Johnson said: “I was appalled to learn that there have been multiple examples in Sue Gray’s phrase of disrespectful land and poor treatment of cleaning and security personnel.

“I personally apologised to those dedicated members of staff for what happened and I expect anyone who behaved in that way to do the same.”

He went on to again appear to defend the justification of “thanking” governmental staff for their work during Covid, adding: “I’ve tried to explain the context of why I was at other events where I was saying farewell to valued colleagues.

“I know that some people will think it was wrong to even do that. I have to say I respectfully disagree, I think it was right.

“When people who were working very hard, for very long hours, when they are giving up a huge amount to serve their country and they are moving on to some other part of government or leaving government service altogether, I think it is right to thank them.

“I repeat what I said in the Commons earlier on, I believe that they were work events, part of my job, and that view appears to be substantiated by the fact that I wasn’t fined for those events.

“For the rest, I just want to say I appreciate that things didn’t go in the way I would have wanted. The events proceeded afterwards in a way I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to see.

“What happened with the custodians and the cleaners was plainly utterly unacceptable and I apologise for that, as I have apologised to them personally.”

PM Boris Johnson (left) and chancellor Rishi Sunak at a gathering in the Cabinet Room in 10 Downing Street on his birthday, which has been released with the publication of Sue's Gray report into Downing Street parties in Whitehall during the coronavirus lockdown. Issue date: Wednesday May 25, 2022.

What did Boris Johnson say about resigning?

Despite strong calls from opposition parties, and even some backbench Tory MPs, Mr Johnson has so far refused to resign from his role.

When asked about the possibility at the press conference, the Prime Minister said: “I overwhelmingly feel it is my job to get on and deliver.

“No matter how bitter and painful that the conclusions of this may be – and they are – and no matter how humbling they are, I have got to keep forward and the Government has got to keep moving. And we are.

“We will get on and continue to do the tough things.”

He is due to address the 1922 committee, a group of backbench Tory MPs with the power to call for a leadership vote if they receive enough votes of no confidence from members, following the publication of the report.