At long last, it’s finally here. This afternoon’s release of Sue Gray’s report into the Downing Street parties marks the end of weeks of speculation as to the contents of the senior civil servant’s findings. Gray’s investigation was a mere eight pages, much of which focused on the Covid timeline and her report’s terms of reference.
Initial reaction is still coming in but it seems that her summary is set to please no one: the belated decision by the Met to open their own investigation prevented Gray from commenting on the most serious potential breaches. This means that Boris-backers are denied the chance to brush off the saga and move on, while his critics are denied the smoking gun they desperately craved.
Among the more damning comments in Gray’s report include claims of a ‘failure of leadership in No. 10 and Cabinet office,’ a ‘serious failure to observe high standards expected,’ the ‘excessive consumption of alcohol’ with ‘behaviour difficult to justify.’ Crucially though, as she herself writes, this is not yet the ‘meaningful report’ she was expected to deliver. So, below, here are five unanswered questions from Sue Gray’s investigation into alleged gatherings on government premises:
1. Did Boris lie to the House?
Of all the gatherings under police investigation, it is the No. 10 flat party on 13 November 2020 which is most likely to concern those still in Downing Street. This event is believed to have been held to mark the departure of Dominic Cummings as a special adviser. Boris Johnson was about this event at Prime Ministers’ Questions last month, with Labour MP Catherine West asking:
‘Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether there was a party in Downing Street on 13 November?’
No, but I am sure that whatever happened, the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.
It therefore begs the question: did Boris lie to the House? And if so, will he now face further calls to resign?
2. Did Carrie’s team lie?
Boris Johnson’s wife also appears to be implicated in the shenanigans around the 13 November flat party. Just yesterday, a spokesman for Carrie Johnson told the Mail on Sunday newspaper: ‘It is totally untrue to suggest Mrs Johnson held a party in the Downing Street flat on November 13, 2020.’ Whether you’d call it a ‘party’ or not, it now appears that whatever happened in the Johnsons’ flat on that day is considered enough grounds for the Metropolitan Police to now investigate potential breaches of Covid restrictions.
3. How many more parties were there?
Sue Gray references sixteen events in her report, of which only four were NOT passed onto the Metropolitan Police. The mandarin appears to have found three new events, including a No. 10 staff gathering in the Cabinet Office on 18 June 2020 and another staff gathering in No. 10 on 14 January 2021. There was also another No. 10 gathering, on the date of 17 December 2020 alongside two others on that same day which were already known about. Were there any others that her investigation did not find?
4. Did No. 10’s exceptional circumstances count for anything?
Throughout this whole saga, the exceptional, shape-shifting, Tardis-like nature of No. 10 has been given as a justification for why certain events were held either in the garden or in the rooms of Downing Street. Sue Gray gave short shrift to that notion in her report, claiming that the difficult challenges of Covid ‘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.’
5. Where does this leave the Met?
Sue Gray’s report drips barely-concealed anger: some of it at those in No. 10 and the Cabinet Office, but much of it at the Metropolitan police, which kiboshed its findings less than a week ago. No doubt the Met police is keen to get cracking on its own probe and see what Gray has found in her evidence. However the mandarin has no intention of helping in this respect, writing:
I will therefore ensure the secure storage and safekeeping of all the information gathered until such time as it may be required further.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.