Has Downing Street got a ‘frat house’ culture problem?

Sue Gray criticises ‘excessive consumption of alcohol’ at No. 10 in probe update

Downing Street
(Image credit: Lisa Blue/Getty Images)

Boris Johnson has been accused of presiding over a “frat house” culture in which No. 10 staffers down “excessive” amounts of alcohol and classified documents are left strewn around.

The prime minister is battling to save his political career as Sue Gray’s long-awaited report into a string of lockdown-busting Downing Street parties fuels public anger. “People aren’t even following which party is which, it’s all blurred into one big frat house,” an unnamed former minister told The Times last month.

Security fears

The Sunday Times’ chief political correspondent Tim Shipman reported last weekend that fears of security breaches amid Downing Street mayhem led senior aides to restrict where Johnson could read classified documents.

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Two sources said that in 2020, Johnson’s then right-hand man Dominic Cummings “ordered a crackdown on highly classified intelligence papers being put in Johnson’s ministerial red box”, after such material was found “lying around” in the PM’s family flat “where it could be read by any visitor”.

Staff were told that “instead, material was to be shown to the PM downstairs in No. 10 or Chequers, then immediately returned to safekeeping”, said an insider.

Another source claimed that Johnson’s ministerial box would often be left untouched outside the door of his Downing Street flat on Saturdays. “It would be there in the morning and often still there in the evening,” said the unnamed official. “He wouldn’t have touched it.”

This “frat house culture” is “in keeping with Johnson’s incompetent, disorganised style of government”, said The Mirror. “Parties during lockdowns are only the worrying tip of a frightening iceberg if the PM is even a fraction as warped, careless, reckless and conceited as Cummings portrays,” the paper continued in a scathing leader.

Party people

According to The Mail on Sunday, inquiry chief Sue Gray has been told of a “victory party” hosted by the PM’s wife after Cummings resigned from his top post in No. 10. On the night of 13 November 2020, Carrie Johnson allegedly danced to Abba alongside friends as they celebrated his departure.

“There was the sound of lots of banging and dancing and drinking, and a number of Abba tracks – including a triumphalist Winner Takes It All,” a source told the paper.

The Sunday Times reported that Gray had also learned that “several of Carrie Johnson’s friends had the access pin code to the private flat above No. 11 Downing Street so they could come and go at will”.

The initial report from Gray, published on Monday, revealed that at least 12 gatherings in Downing Street and other Whitehall buildings are being investigated by police, including the alleged victory party.

Gray’s report criticised the “excessive consumption of alcohol” in Downing Street, and suggested new rules be implemented to ensure government departments have “a clear and robust” policy in place over workplace drinking.

Former Downing Street advisor Nikki da Costa, who served under Johnson and Theresa May, told BBC 4’s Woman's Hour yesterday that there “needs to be cultural change at No. 10 which is based on moral responsibility” and “a setting of values and ethics”.

Asked about claims of a “frat boy collective” in Downing Street, with men buying “barrels of malbec and not necessarily obeying the rules”, Da Costa said such a portrayal was “accurate in many ways”.

Johnson told the House of Commons yesterday that he was “sorry” for “the things we simply did not get right” and for “the way this matter has been handled”.

The PM said he accepted Gray’s findings and agreed that “we must learn from these events and act now” – although he noted that she had also said no final conclusions could be drawn while police investigate the claims.

Johnson pledged to create an Office of the Prime Minister to address the “fragmented and complicated” leadership structures that Gray criticised, and to ensure her recommendations are reflected in the codes of conduct for the civil service and special adviser.

“I get it,” said Johnson, “and I will fix it.”

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