Downing Street suffers from a culture of “excessive” workplace drinking that led to social gatherings during pandemic lockdowns, according to a highly anticipated report from a British government investigation released on Monday.
The document described leadership failures in the office of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, though it did not directly implicate Mr. Johnson in wrongdoing, leaving that judgment to a separate police investigation. That may give him some political breathing room, but it is unlikely to dispel the cloud of what has become a career-threatening scandal.
The report, by a senior civil servant, Sue Gray, was scrubbed of its most potentially damaging findings at the request of London’s Metropolitan Police, which launched their own investigation of the lockdown breaches last week. So abridged was the document released on Monday that the Cabinet Office characterized it as an “update” of Ms. Gray’s investigation rather than as a report.
Still, even in its redacted form, the report painted a troubling portrait of a work culture at Downing Street, where staff members held alcohol-fueled gatherings with colleagues during a period when the government was urging the public to avoid socializing, even with close friends and relatives. Accusations of double standards have engulfed Mr. Johnson’s government and threatened his grip on power.
“At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of government, but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time,” Ms. Gray said in one of her general findings.
“There were failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No. 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times,” she continued. “Some of the events should not have been allowed to take place. Other events should not have been allowed to develop as they did.”
Ms. Gray took particular aim at the regular drinking at these events. “The excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time,” she wrote, adding that government agencies needed “a clear and robust policy in place covering the consumption of alcohol in the workplace.”
The prime minister had shored up his position somewhat in recent days, and the findings released on Monday did not immediately appear to pose a fresh threat to him. But at a minimum, they raised hard questions about the operation Mr. Johnson and his senior aides have put together at Downing Street.
Mr. Johnson, who addressed Parliament about the report on Monday, has been scrambling to avoid a vote of no-confidence in his leadership by Conservative lawmakers. Such a vote would be called if 54 members submit confidential letters demanding it. That threshold has not yet been met, and it was unlikely that the details released Monday would lead to a flood of new dissidents.
Indeed, Downing Street moved swiftly to change the subject. Mr. Johnson, eager to drape himself in a statesman’s mantle, scheduled a phone call with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Monday to discuss the mounting tensions in Ukraine. He will visit the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, on Tuesday.
Britain has been staking out a more assertive policy on Ukraine in recent weeks. But Mr. Johnson has been forced to cede much of the spotlight to his foreign secretary, Liz Truss, and defense secretary, Ben Wallace, while he grappled with the mutiny inside his Conservative Party over the party scandal.
Later in the week, the government will release a report on its “leveling up” program, the blueprint to bolster economically blighted parts of the country’s north, which is the centerpiece of its legislative agenda.
Mr. Johnson hopes to mollify Conservative lawmakers, many of whom were swept into Parliament in 2019 on the strength of Mr. Johnson’s “Get Brexit done” campaign slogan but who have grown disillusioned with him, particularly in the wake of disclosures about pandemic socializing at Downing Street.