UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he took “full responsibility” for breaches of COVID-19 restrictions after the publication of a final report into gatherings held at Downing Street in 2020.
In the report, the author, Sue Gray, said many of the events “should not have been allowed to happen” and that senior leadership at Downing Street “must bear responsibility for this culture.”
Speaking in Parliament, Johnson apologized, and said, “I take full responsibility for everything that took place on my watch.”
Johnson can be seen in several photos of gatherings at Downing Street published in the Gray report.
The photos come from gatherings on June 19, 2020, and November 13, 2020. Credit: Parliament TV via Storyful
BORIS JOHNSON: I'm grateful to Sue Gray for her reports today, and I want to thank her for the work that she's done. I also thank the Metropolitan Police for completing their investigation, and I want to begin today by renewing my apology to the House, to the whole country, for the short lunchtime gathering on the 19th of June 2020 in the cabinet room, during which I stood at my place at the cabinet table and 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 emphasized that it is up to the political leadership in Number 10 to take 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 explain what I have previously said to this House.
And it's important to set out that over a period of about 600 days, gatherings on a total of eight dates have been found to be in breach of the regulations in a building that is 5,300 meters square, across five floors, excluding the flats. Mr. Speaker, I do think it is import-- It is important because this is the first time I have had the chance I've had to set out the context. Hundreds of staff are entitled to work, and in the cabinet office, which has thousands of officials and now is the biggest it's been in any point in its 100-year history.
That is in itself one of the reasons why the government is now looking for change and reform. 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 best to give this country the ability to fight the pandemic during-- Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that this is no mitigation, but it is important to set out the context.
- Prime Minister, please, just one second. Can I just appeal to the House? I expect it to be heard, and I want everybody to hear it. And I want the same respect to be shown to the leader of the opposition afterwards. So please, this is a very, very important statement that the country wants to hear, as well. Prime minister.
BORIS JOHNSON: Yeah, Mr. Speaker, I'm trying to set out the context not to mitigate or to absorb myself in any way. The exemption under which they were present in Downing Street includes those circumstances where officials and advisors were leaving the government. And it was appropriate to recognize them, to thank them for the work that they had done. Let me come to that, Mr. Speaker.
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, and particularly important when people need to feel that their contributions have been appreciated and to keep morale as high as possible. I'm trying to explain the reasons I was there, Mr. Speaker. And it's clear from what Sue Gray has had to say that some of these gatherings then went on far longer than was necessary.
And they were clearly in breach of the rules, and they 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 to extenuating, I had no knowledge of those 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 have unfolded. And frankly, Mr. Speaker, I have been appalled by some of the behavior, particularly in the treatment of the security and the cleaning staff.
And I would like to apologize to those members of staff, and I expect anyone who behaved in that way to apologize to them, as well.