Boris Johnson’s rivals warn of an “establishment seam” and a “whitehall whitewash” over Sue Gray’s report on Downing Street parties.
It appears the top official will have to split her report in two, or delay it altogether, after the Metropolitan Police asked her to remove some references to the meetings she is investigating.
Mrs. Gray could decide as soon as today how to proceed with her post-bomb report.
But either way, a late or half-baked report might not be the “death blow” to Boris Johnson’s authority that triggers a leadership challenge.
And the PM clearly thinks he’s clean for now, as Parliament is set to rise without a post today, and he’ll spend the weekend lounging at Checkers.
Sir Keir Starmer said the government was “paralysed” by the chaos, which came after days of reporting and counter-reporting on the report.
The Labor leader said: “While the Tories focus on this Boris Johnson charade, people across the country are worried about paying their bills, whether they can afford to fill up their car and about the tax increases that will be imposed. . about them in a few weeks.
“They are not receiving answers from a government mired in squalor and scandal.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “This is getting murkier by the minute.
“Sue Gray and the Met are in difficult positions, but the sequence of events and the situation that has now been reached creates suspicion, however unfair, that the investigative process is aiding Johnson at the expense of public accountability.” .
This is what is happening and what could happen next.
What is the Sue Gray report?
Senior officer Sue Gray is investigating a series of parties between May 2020 and April 2021, mainly at No10 and its garden.
The 64-year-old took over the investigation from cabinet secretary Simon Case after it emerged a party had been held in his own office.
His probe was created to gain “a general understanding of the nature of meetings.”
That means saying who attended, the “place and purpose” and “reference to adherence to then-current guidance.”
But it cannot decide whether the PM broke the law (which is for the police) or the Ministerial Code (which is for a different watchdog).
And the names of junior staff are likely to be kept anonymous. The disciplinary action will also be kept secret.
When is Sue Gray’s report due and why is it delayed?
His report was due this week and Boris Johnson promised to publish it shortly after receiving it.
But it descended into chaos after the Metropolitan Police began investigating “several” Downing Street gatherings she had seen.
Government and police officials are discussing which parts of the report could harm a police investigation.
Sources said earlier this week that Scotland Yard had no objection to the report being published.
But after days of confusion, the Met Police said: “For the events that the Met is investigating, we asked that a minimal reference be made in the Cabinet Office report.
“The Met did not request any limitations on other events in the report, or for the report to be delayed, but we have had ongoing contact with the Cabinet Office, including on the content of the report, to avoid any prejudice to our investigation.”
This means that the report now has to be published without key details, or delayed altogether, or completely defied by the police – a terrible choice for Ms Gray.
At lunchtime on Friday, Ms Gray was still in talks about whether and how she could publish her report.
Do the police have a good reason for this?
Scotland Yard’s decision sparked bewilderment after the force spent weeks without investigating, only to launch one at the worst possible time.
Lawyers point out that Sue Gray’s report is highly unlikely to harm any court case, because lockdown violations are almost always punishable by fines on the spot.
Nazir Afzal, former Chief Crown Prosecutor for the North West, said the Twitter : “This is absolute nonsense from the Met Police. A purely factual report by Sue Gray cannot harm a police investigation. They just have to follow the evidence, of which the report will be a part.”
Lead attorney Adam Wagner, an expert on the Covid rules, tweeted: “I’m not a criminal lawyer so maybe I’m missing something.
“How would an actual civil service report on the events the police are investigating ‘harm’ their investigation?”
Former No10 assistant Nick Timothy said it was “absurd to say that publishing Gray derails a police investigation/prosecution. They are infractions of notification of fixed penalty.”
But others noted that Scotland Yard wants to “prevent any harm to our research ” – “investigation”, not prosecution.
Nick Aldworth, the Met’s former chief superintendent, said knowing the contents of the report could “give potential defendants an opportunity to hide or tamper with evidence”.
Lawyer Andrew Keogh tweeted: “‘Criminal Proceedings’ doesn’t just mean a trial, so the bias towards them also means the investigation.
“Giving a potential suspect early insight into other evidence can, for example, lead to bias. We need to think more broadly about this. Police criticized for not acting, now for doing it right.”
Why is there so much confusion about the release date?
The Mirror understands that the confusion was made worse by an anonymous Met briefing.
Police sources said on Tuesday that Scotland Yard had no objection to Sue Gray’s report being published in full.
But No10 found out later that, in fact, it wasn’t like that. In fact, the opposite was true, and Scotland Yard still had questions about the report.
POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Will Sue Gray’s report be published in full?
No10 has repeatedly promised to publish Sue Gray’s full findings; in other words, the same report that she delivers to No10.
But the more relevant question is how much Sue Gray’s report will be “self-censored” before reaching number 10.
Even before the Met’s statement, the Mirror understood that it would not contain all the evidence it received, just a summary, and might omit individual names of staff.
This meant that it would not contain things like text exchanges or photos of Boris Johnson with bottles of wine.
Now that the Met Police have stepped in, whole parts of Sue Gray’s story, by definition the most damaging, could also be left out.
Will all this help Boris Johnson?
Most observers think it will. The timing of the report is crucial for Boris Johnson because it affects his own MPs who are trying to unseat him as prime minister.
54 Conservative MPs are due to send letters of censure to trigger a leadership challenge, and many awaited the outcome of Sue Gray’s report before deciding.
An elected Tory in 2019 told the Mirror that things had “calmed down over the last week”, adding: “Sometimes you come over the edge, look back and go ‘aagh!'”
Leaving any conclusions in the long grass could allow the prime minister more time to “fix” Downing Street and satisfy his MPs with an answer.
It could also ensure that the media coverage and public outrage over the scandal subsides, meaning that even if dozens of people are fined, he survives politically.
In the meantime, posting a half-assed report will now allow you to go off the rails and brag, claiming you’ve been exonerated for a half-assed report. There are no good options.
Did Boris Johnson talk to the Met to ensure a ‘sewn’?
Downing Street insisted that it did not ask Sue Gray’s team to return to the Met to ensure their report did not interfere with police investigations.
A Boris Johnson spokesman said: “This is an independent investigation. We have not been privy to the details of that investigation or its content.
“So that would be a matter for the investigative team and the Met.”
Asked if No 10 had any discussions with the Met about the Gray report and what might be released, the spokesman said: “Not that I know of, no.”
Asked if it was correct that the Met’s announcement, which they asked the Gray report to make minimal reference to the alleged events they are investigating, had no involvement from No. 10, the spokesman said: “I think that’s correct.”
He added: “I’m not privy to the details, it wouldn’t be appropriate for it to be.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.