UPDATE 1-UK Government on Defensive as 'Partygate' Report Delivered

Reuters
Reuters
Reuters
Reuters

* Gray report on boozy parties received in Downing Street

* Expected to be published later on Wednesday

* Minister says PM Johnson already said sorry, been fined

* New evidence of lockdown parties has emerged this week (Adds report received, Johnson statement to parliament)

By Elizabeth Piper and William James

LONDON, May 25 (Reuters) - Boris Johnson on Wednesday received a report into coronavirus lockdown-breaking parties at his Downing Street office and residence, an investigation that could heighten pressure on Britain's Prime Minister to resign.

Senior civil servant Sue Gray's report is expected to be published later on Wednesday, at a time when new photographs and accounts of a series of boozy gatherings - dubbed 'partygate' - have added momentum to calls for Johnson to go.

The long-anticipated report is set to offer more details of parties at the heart of power while the rest of the country was under a strict lockdown to try to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Johnson, who was fined by police for attending his own birthday party during lockdown but escaped further penalties, has been forced to apologise for the culture in Downing Street, but more details might further undermine his authority.

"We can confirm that Sue Gray has provided her final report to the prime minister," a Cabinet Office spokesperson said.

'HE'S APOLOGISED'

The leader of House of Commons said Johnson would later make a statement to parliament on the report.

Seeking to play it down, environment minister George Eustice earlier said police had investigated "all of these events" in Downing Street.

"They've issued a fixed penalty notice to the prime minister in respect of one of those events that he that he attended. He's paid that penalty," he told Times Radio.

"He's apologised ... So I'm not sure that anything new will come from this report other than further detail, but of course, we will... look at it."

For months, evidence of the alcohol-fuelled parties has dripped out into the media, forcing Johnson to apologise, change the team at his office and promise a reset to try to restore his authority.

But he has failed to stem calls for his resignation, with some lawmakers saying his position is untenable if he lied to parliament, a matter under investigation by parliament's Committee of Privileges.

Ministers say he has not misled parliament.

Gray's report follows new revelations of what went on inside Downing Street when coronavirus rules meant people could not socialise outside their households or even, in many cases, attend funerals for loved ones.

Late on Tuesday, the BBC's Panorama programme cited insiders as saying staff crowded together at such events, and how, sometimes in the morning when arriving for work, they were met with bottles littering parts of the building. Some parties went on so late, they said, some people ended up staying all night.

On Monday, photographs published by broadcaster ITV appeared to show Johnson on Nov. 13, 2020 making a speech and raising a toast, with a glass in his hand, standing next to a table on top of which are several open wine bottles.

Johnson's spokesman did not address the photographs directly but said that, after the publication of the Gray report, the prime minister would address parliament and answer questions. (Reporting by Elizabeth Piper and William James; editing by John Stonestreet)

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