Boris Johnson has said he believes “overwhelmingly” he should remain in office despite public anger at the “bitter and painful” conclusions of the investigation into raucous parties in No. 10 during lockdown restrictions.
The prime minister said on Wednesday that he acknowledged people are “outraged” by the damning findings of Sue Gray’s report on breaking the law at the heart of the government, but resisted fresh calls to resign.
He said he takes “full responsibility” for the scandal, but tried to downplay his personal involvement in the rallies described in the report.
The Gray reported detailed events where officials drank so much they fell ill, sang karaoke, got involved in altercations and abused security and cleaning staff at a time when millions across the country were unable to see friends and family.
Johnson said at a press conference in Downing Street: “I understand why people are outraged and why people are angry about what happened.”
When asked if he has ever considered resigning, he replied: “I have an overwhelming feeling that my job is to move forward and perform.
“No matter how bitter and painful the conclusions of this – and they are – and how humble they are, I must keep moving forward and the government must keep moving. And we are.”
Tory MPs gave a muted response to the report, but a quick YouGov poll suggested three in five Britons want Mr Johnson to quit.
But a conservative ally of Johnson’s claimed it would be “ridiculous” for him to step down now.
A devastating new detail was the “multiple instances of disrespect and ill-treatment” from cleaning and security personnel during the events, which Ms Gray said was “unacceptable”.
Mr Johnson apologized, describing their treatment as “abhorrent” and “completely intolerable”, and said he has started “making some inquiries” to find out who was behind the behaviour.
The report said the “senior leadership” in No. 10 must “bear responsibility” for the culture that led to lockdown rules being broken at a series of events in 2020 and 2021.
Ms Gray added: “The events I have been investigating were attended by heads of government. Many of these events should not have happened.”
The Metropolitan Police has handed out 126 fines for rule violations in No. 10 and Whitehall, with the Prime Minister receiving a single fixed fine for his birthday party in the Cabinet Room in June 2020.
But the senior official, Ms. Gray, denounced the wider culture that had been allowed to develop under Johnson’s leadership.
She said some junior officials attending parties “believed that their involvement in some of these events was allowed given the presence of senior leaders”.
“The senior leadership at the center, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture,” she added.
“Many will be astonished that this kind of behavior on this scale took place at the heart of the government.
“The public has a right to expect the very highest standards of behavior in such places and it is clear that what happened does not live up to this.”
Conservative backbencher Julian Sturdy added his voice to those calling on Johnson to resign, with the York Outer MP saying “it is in the public interest that he resign”.
Former ministerial aide Angela Richardson said the scandal has eroded public confidence in politicians and “paints a bad picture of us all”.
“Obviously if this had been a report on my leadership I would resign,” the Tory MP wrote online.
Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer told the Commons the report “bared the rot” in No. 10 and called on Tory MPs to tell Johnson “the game is up” and that it is “time to pack his bags”.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford called on the prime minister to step down for “orchestrating” the Downing Street scenes.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: “Any other Prime Minister would be forced to resign by a report so damaging, yet Conservative MPs defend Johnson and have him detained.”
But it is Conservative MPs who will decide his fate, and Mr Johnson further apologized at a closed-door meeting of the Committee of Backbenchers in 1922.
Earlier, senior backbencher Tobias Ellwood, a prominent critic of the Prime Minister, challenged Mr Johnson over the “scathing report” that revealed an “absence of leadership, focus and discipline in No. 10”.
He asked fellow Tories, “Are you willing to publicly defend this behavior day in and day out?” and “Can we win the general election on this current trajectory?”
The findings of the study include:
– Staff drank in No 10 until the early hours on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, with the last departure recorded at 04:20.
– Mr Johnson joined five advisers at a “food and alcohol” event at his Downing Street flat on the night of the announcement of Dominic Cummings’ departure as chief adviser.
– Then-owner and ethics chief Helen MacNamara provided a karaoke machine for a Cabinet Office meeting where one person was ill and there was a “minor altercation” between two others.
– Then-senior adviser to the Prime Minister Martin Reynolds boasted in a WhatsApp message to a special adviser that “we seem to have gotten away with” a bring-your-own-booze garden party.
– Mr Johnson brought cheese and wine from his own flat to a garden gathering on May 15, 2020.
The report includes a series of photos, with Mr Johnson pictured at the surprise birthday party in the Cabinet Room on June 19, 2020 for which he was fined.
He is seen with Cabinet Secretary Simon Case and Chancellor Rishi Sunak, having sandwiches, juice and what appears to be lager. One photo shows Mr Johnson holding up a can of beer.
Other photos include previously-seen footage of Mr Johnson raising a glass of wine at a farewell ceremony for his former spin doctor Lee Cain on Nov. 13, 2020.
In a statement from the House of Commons, Mr Johnson reiterated his apology at the birthday party, adding: “I take full responsibility for everything that happened on my watch.
“The Sue Gray report has emphasized that it is up to the No. 10 political leaders to take ultimate responsibility and of course I do.”
Johnson said he was “humiliated” by the experience and learned his lesson.