Sue Gray report: No 10 apologises for misleading journalists over Partygate

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Downing StreetImage source, EPA

Boris Johnson's spokesman has apologised on behalf of the No 10 press office for its handling of Partygate.

During press briefings, Downing Street spokespeople repeatedly told journalists that all Covid rules had been followed in Downing Street.

But some members of the press office were at events where rules were broken, as detailed in Sue Gray's report.

The prime minister has denied misleading MPs, saying he believed at the time the rules had been followed.

On Thursday, in an unusual move, a Downing Street spokesman apologised to journalists for saying there had been no parties.

Asked how he could be trusted, the spokesman said: "There were failures in both what happened and how that was handled subsequently.

"The PM has apologised for that and I am happy to apologise for that.

"There were times when we were limited in what we could say, and times when we didn't have a full understanding of what took place."

The spokesman would not say if he himself attended any of the events or was fined.

He would also not comment on whether anyone in the press office had offered to resign.

Downing Street spokespeople are not normally named in media reports, if they are civil servants rather than political appointees.

Wine Time Fridays

Among the events highlighted in Ms Gray's report was a press office leaving do for departing communications director Lee Cain in November 2020, where Mr Johnson gave a speech.

On December 18 of that year, the press office had a "secret Santa party" where some staff drank "excessively", according to the report. A cleaner who came in the following morning found red wine had been spilled on the wall.

Press office staff were also present at a notorious leaving do on 16 April 2021 - the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh's funeral - for Mr Cain's successor James Slack, when the drinking continued into the early hours of the morning.

No 10 has said the press office's so-called Wine Time Fridays have been banned under new guidelines which state that "excessive" alcohol consumption in the office is not appropriate.

According to Ms Gray's report, the Friday wine sessions were a regular event which predated the pandemic, where "bottles of wine were placed on a table in a small room adjacent to the main press office and people could help themselves".

The report also said staff pooled their money to buy a fridge for the office to enjoy "chilled WTF (Wine Time Friday)".

Speaking on Thursday, the No 10 spokesman told journalists: "We don't have a fridge anymore."

When allegations of rule-breaking in Downing Street first emerged, the prime minister insisted all the guidelines had been observed.

However, after a photo of one event was published, he apologised and said he had been "repeatedly assured" that rules had not been broken.

A parliamentary committee is currently investigating whether the prime minister deliberately misled MPs over his statements on parties.

Addressing the report's conclusions on Wednesday, Mr Johnson said he was "humbled" but ruled out resigning, saying he wanted to focus on the "people's priorities".

But four Conservative MPs have urged him to step down in the aftermath of the report, with one, John Baron, saying it revealed "a shameful pattern of misbehaviour" in Downing Street.