LONDON (AP) — The British government says a long-awaited report into lockdown-breaching parties in government offices has been handed to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. It is due to be published later Wednesday, and Johnson will address Parliament on its findings.
Johnson’s future may hinge on the conclusions of senior civil servant Sue Gray. She investigated 16 gatherings attended by Johnson and his staff in 2020 and 2021 while people in the U.K. were barred from socializing under coronavirus restrictions imposed by Johnson’s Conservative government.
A separate police investigation saw 83 people hit with fines, including Johnson — making him the first British prime minister ever found to have broken the law while in office.
Johnson has apologized, but insisted that he didn’t knowingly break the rules. That is hard to square with accounts by staffers of “bring your own booze” parties and regular “wine time Fridays” in the prime minister’s 10 Downing St. office at the height of the pandemic.
In his statement to Parliament, Johnson will have to explain why he told lawmakers last year that no parties were held in Downing Street and no rules were broken.
Critics, some of them inside Johnson’s Conservative Party, say the prime minister lied to Parliament — traditionally a resigning matter.
Claims that Johnson and his staff enjoyed illegal office parties while millions in the country were prevented from seeing friends and family in 2020 and 2021 have dogged the government since they first surfaced late last year.
Johnson has clung on to power so far, partly because Russia’s invasion of Ukraine diverted public and political attention. Some Conservatives who had considered seeking a no-confidence vote in their leader said it would be rash to push Johnson out in the middle of a war that is destabilizing Europe and fueling a cost-of-living crisis.
Johnson got a further reprieve when the Metropolitan Police told him last week that he wouldn’t be getting any more fines, even though he attended several events under investigation.
Environment Secretary George Eustice defended the prime minister on Wednesday, but acknowledged that the “boundary between what was acceptable and what wasn’t got blurred, and that was a mistake.”
“The prime minister himself has accepted that and recognizes there were of course failings and therefore there’s got to be some changes to the way the place is run,” he told Times Radio.