A Graywash? Downing Street party report is merely an ‘update'

1 February 2022

1:30 AM

1 February 2022

1:30 AM

Sue Gray’s report on the lockdown partying in Downing Street is short. Just 11 pages. Early on, it makes clear that the police are investigating all but four of them, which makes this an ‘update’. Gray avoids making a judgement on whether the gatherings were a breach of the regulations and guidance in place at the time because of the police inquiry. Instead, her conclusion is that ‘a number of these gatherings should not have been allowed to take place’ and that the ‘significant learning’ that needs to take place across Government ‘does not need to wait for the police investigation to be concluded’.

The ‘learning’ is set out in a section called ‘general findings’ which criticises ‘failures of leadership and judgement by different parts of No. 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times’.

Perhaps the most newsworthy line in the whole report is this one:

’Too much responsibility and expectation is placed on the senior official whose principal function is the direct support of the Prime Minister. This should be addressed as a matter of priority.’ 

This official is Martin Reynolds, Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary, who has been earmarked for the chop ever since the ‘BYOB’ email about the gathering on 20 May. The Prime Minister could use this recommendation as the spur for sacking Reynolds and changing the job of whoever replaces him beyond recognition.

Gray also calls for a robust policy on alcohol consumption in No. 10 and government departments, and controls on access to the Downing Street garden, rather than as a place for social gatherings. The report dismisses some of the more ludicrous pleading from supporters of the Prime Minister that Downing Street staff were under a lot of pressure and so somehow deserved to be able to drink and congregate in this way.

Gray writes that such challenges ‘also applied to key and frontline workers across the country who were working under equally, if not more, demanding conditions, often at risk to their own health’. She adds:

‘The hardship under which citizens across the country worked, lived and sadly even died while observing the government’s regulations and guidance rigorously are known only too well.’

We do have further details of the investigation that Gray conducted. She interviewed more than 70 people, examined emails, WhatsApp and text messages, as well as photos and building entry and exit logs. All this information is staying private for the time being.

Gray is clear there is more to come. But that will wait until the conclusion of the police investigations – and we do not know when that will be. This report does buy the Prime Minister more time, but it also increases the expectations of the full Gray report whenever it is due, otherwise the senior civil servant will be accused of a whitewash.

More to follow…

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