U.K.’s Boris Johnson gets ‘partygate’ report after lockdown-breaching bashes – National
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been handed an investigator’s long-awaited report into lockdown-breaching government parties, the government said Monday — but findings about the most serious allegations have been withheld pending a police investigation.
The Cabinet Office said senior civil servant Sue Gray “has provided an update on her investigations to the Prime Minister.”
Johnson’s office says the report will be published and the prime minister will address Parliament about its findings later Monday.
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But the “update” is unlikely to tell the full story about claims that have rocked Johnson’s Conservative government. Some of Gray’s findings have been cut at the request of police, who have launched a separate investigation into whether several of the almost 20 gatherings she investigated broke COVID-19 laws.
Allegations that the prime minister and his staff flouted restrictions imposed on the country to curb the spread of the coronavirus have caused public anger, led some Conservative lawmakers to call for Johnson’s resignation and triggered intense infighting inside the governing party.
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Johnson has denied personal wrongdoing and said he has “absolutely no intention” of resigning.
But Johnson’s grip on power has been weakened by allegations that he and his staff flouted restrictions they imposed on the country in 2020 and 2021 to curb the spread of the coronavirus with “bring your own booze” office parties, birthday celebrations and “wine time Fridays.”
Publication of Gray’s report was delayed when the Metropolitan Police force launched its own investigation last week into the most serious alleged breaches of coronavirus rules.
The force said it had asked for Gray’s report to make only “minimal reference” to the events being investigated by detectives “to avoid any prejudice to our investigation.”
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Johnson’s opponents accused the government of trying to water down a report that could trigger an attempt to oust the prime minister by his own party. Some Conservative lawmakers have said they will push for a no-confidence vote if Gray finds Johnson was at fault or lied to Parliament about his actions.
The circumscribed and partial report may give Johnson at least a temporary reprieve from calls for his ouster.
“It’s a mess,” said Will Walden, a former Johnson aide. “It’s probably bad for democracy, but inadvertently good for the PM.”
It’s unclear whether Gray’s full findings will be published once the police investigation is finished. Johnson’s spokesman, Max Blain, said the prime minister’s office would discuss with police and Gray’s team “what is suitable” to publish.
Johnson could be interviewed by detectives as part of their probe and may face a fine if he is found to have breached the law.
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Johnson, meanwhile, was trying to change the subject from his personal woes, marking the second anniversary of Brexit on Monday by touting economic opportunities outside the European Union.
The U.K. officially left the now 27-nation bloc on Jan. 31, 2020, though it remained part of the EU’s economic structures for another 11 months.
Since then, the upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic has obscured the economic ructions caused by the end of frictionless trade with Britain’s biggest economic partner. Britain’s economy is growing after entering recession amid pandemic lockdowns, but trade with the EU has fallen since Brexit introduced customs checks and other hurdles.
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Johnson vowed Monday to unlock the potential of Brexit, unveiling a “Brexit Freedoms” Bill that the government says will slash red tape for British businesses by amending laws that were carried over from the U.K.’s years as an EU member.
“In all the areas where the U.K. is strong — cyber, artificial intelligence, all the cutting-edge technologies of the future — we are going to make sure we do things differently and better, where appropriate,” Johnson said on a visit to Tilbury, east of London, one of Britain’s busiest ports.
Opponents say the bill will just make it easier for the government to change laws without Parliament’s approval.
The government is also promising this week to give long-awaited details of plans to “level up” the country by expanding economic opportunity to neglected regions.
And Johnson plans a diplomatic push to try to ease tensions between Russia and Ukraine. His office says the prime minister will speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone later Monday and visit Ukraine on Tuesday as part of efforts to deter Russia from invading its neighbor.
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