(CNN)According to reports, multiple parties where alcohol was served — in breach of the government’s own Covid restrictions — took place in Whitehall during the pandemic. Most recently, Downing Street has admitted that up to 30 guests gathered to celebrate Boris Johnson’s birthday on June 19, 2020, when almost all indoor gatherings of more than two people were banned.
In an attempt to defend his presence at a “bring your own booze” garden party held at No 10 — his official residence — in May 2020, Johnson told journalists that he’d thought he was at a “work event.”
It’s an insipid excuse — and according to lawyers including Adam Wagner, a barrister and expert in Covid law, almost certainly legally indefensible. But as Johnson probably realizes, it isn’t just the fact of our nation’s cabin crew boozing their way through the pandemic that offends the British populace.
The real insult is that while we abstained, he and his colleagues did not. And incredible though it is that so many people shouldering huge professional responsibilities were prepared to attend these potentially dangerous gatherings, the ingrained presenteeism in Britain when bosses or colleagues hit the bar has always come at a heavy price.
The Metropolitan Police is investigating “a number” of these occasions, alongside a separate inquiry led by civil servant Sue Gray. In a stripped-back version of Gray’s report made public on Monday, the Cabinet Office said, “The excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time. Steps must be taken to ensure that every Government Department has a clear and robust policy in place covering the consumption of alcohol in the workplace.”
Prime Minister Johnson with customers in the beer garden during a visit to a pub on April 19, 2021.
That’s a fine idea, but these statements fail to capture the scope of the problem or address the reality that it’s not just alcohol inside the workplace that’s at issue. And while the report scrutinizes Johnson, it’s important to consider that he wasn’t the only attendee at these parties — nor will these investigations and his ultimate political fate exorcize the toxic element of British culture they represent.