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The inquiry into numerous Covid rule-breaking government parties, led by civil servant Sue Gray, has been published.
In a shortened report due to police investigations into some of the events at Downing Street, Gray concluded that there was a 'failure of leadership'.
Gray's report read: "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 report also addressed the alleged drinking culture in Number 10, suggesting that the ‘excessive consumption of alcohol’ was unprofessional.
The report continued: “The excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time.
“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.”
Gray concluded: “The gatherings within the scope of this investigation are spread over a 20-month period – a period that has been unique in recent times in terms of the complexity and breadth of the demands on public servants and indeed the general public.
“The whole of the country rose to the challenge.
“Ministers, special advisers and the Civil Service, of which I am proud to be a part, were a key and dedicated part of that national effort.
“However, as I have noted, a number of these gatherings should not have been allowed to take place or to develop in the way that they did.
“There is significant learning to be drawn from these events which must be addressed immediately across Government.
“This does not need to wait for the police investigations to be concluded.”
The investigation was first announced on 8 December 2021 amid allegations that Christmas parties took place in November and December the previous year, in breach of Covid restrictions at the time.
As reports of further gatherings emerged, the government confirmed that the inquiry would expand to look into other incidents – including two supposed leaving parties held at No. 10 on 16 April this year, the day before Prince Philip’s funeral.
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case was originally due to report on the various allegations, but stepped down when there were reports of a party held in his own office. He was replaced by another senior official called Sue Gray, who is the second permanent secretary at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and previously ran the propriety and ethics team in the Cabinet Office throughout the 2000s and 2010s.
According to the Cabinet Office, the ‘primary purpose’ of Gray's inquiry has been to ‘establish swiftly a general understanding of the nature of the gatherings, including attendance, the setting and the purpose, with reference to adherence to the guidance in place at the time’.
Met Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick recently announced that officers had launched an investigation into the alleged Covid breaches after being handed information from the Gray inquiry.
However, the force faced some criticism after asking Gray to limit what she publishes about events that are currently under investigation by officers.
Commander Catherine Roper, who leads the Met’s Central Specialist Crime Command, said the force had asked for ‘minimal reference’ to be made in the report to the ‘relevant events’, in order to ‘protect the integrity of the police investigation’ and to be ‘as fair as possible to those who are subject to it’.
She said: “This will only be necessary until these matters are concluded, and is to give detectives the most reliable picture of what happened at these events. We intend to complete our investigations promptly, fairly and proportionately.
“We have not delayed this report and the timing of its release is a matter for the Cabinet Office inquiry team.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also faced calls to resign in the wake of the allegations, having repeatedly told press to wait until the results of the report.
He even claimed that he was unaware a drinks party in the No. 10 garden was against Covid rules.
Speaking to reporters during a visit to a north London hospital, Johnson was asked if he had lied to Parliament about the parties, to which he responded: “No. I want to begin by repeating my apologies to everybody for the misjudgements that I’ve made, that we may have made in No 10 and beyond, whether in Downing Street or throughout the pandemic.
“Nobody told me that what we were doing was against the rules, that the event in question was something that… was not a work event, and as I said in the House of Commons when I went out into that garden I thought that I was attending a work event.”
The government also apologised to Buckingham Palace for gatherings held the night before Prince Philip’s funeral, with Johnson’s deputy official spokesman saying in a statement: “It’s deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning, and No 10 has apologised to the Palace.
“You’ve heard from the Prime Minister this week, he’s recognised No 10 should be held to the highest standards and take responsibility for the things we did not get right.
“We have apologised to the Palace.”
According to the Institute for Government think tank, which works to ‘make government more effective’, there are a number of inevitable problems with the inquiry – not least because Gray is a government official.
Ahead of the report being published, the institute explained: “This investigation has highlighted a number of problems with how standards are enforced and investigations handled. Gray is a government official and as such, no matter how thorough her investigation, she has effectively been asked to investigate her own political boss. As a civil servant she is impartial, but not independent.
"Her terms of reference are set by the prime minister, and the team conducting the inquiry work in close proximity to those they are investigating.
“In the past, other inquiries have become controversial after pressure was put on those writing the report to alter their conclusions: the prime minister’s previous adviser on ministerial interests, Alex Allan, resigned after the prime minister rejected his conclusion that Priti Patel had broken the ministerial code.
"Given the political importance this inquiry has attained, there is a risk that public confidence in the standards system is undermined further if the report is considered to obfuscate or if the government spins, or ignores, its conclusions.
"The situation is further complicated because the other person who could have conducted an inquiry into matters concerning the prime minister, Lord Geidt, is unable to start an inquiry unless the prime minister asks him.
"It is for these reasons that several bodies, including the Institute for Government, have called for reform so that an independent watchdog with statutory backing is able to launch its own inquiries independent of government.”
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