A long-awaited report into parties in Downing Street and Whitehall held during coronavirus restrictions by senior civil servant Sue Gray may only be a dozen pages long, but the contents were damaging for Boris Johnson.
Gray, who was commissioned by the prime minister, did not publish a full report because the Metropolitan Police asked her to make limited references to parties it is investigating.
But her report into the “partygate” scandal still poses major questions for Johnson, who has responded by pledging to shake up his Downing Street operation. Below are five key takeaways on Gray’s document.
Failures of leadership in 10 Downing Street
Gray lists 16 “gatherings” that took place in Downing Street and Whitehall between May 2020 and April 2021, during coronavirus restrictions.
She goes on to describe a problematic culture at the top of the UK government, where restrictions were routinely flouted and a blind eye turned to the rules that Britons were asked to follow by Johnson.
Gray, referring to the 16 government events, said: “At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of government, but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time. . .
“There were failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of Number 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times. Some of the events should not have been allowed to take place. Other events should not have been allowed to develop as they did. ”
In effect, Gray argues Whitehall was operating in a bubble. Her report also found “excessive consumption of alcohol” was taking place in government, which Gray described as “not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time”. No senior political figures or civil servants are named, but the report makes clear junior officials should not be blamed.
Number 10’s structure has become dysfunctional
Gray’s report highlights how the number of staff in 10 Downing Street has steadily grown alongside the responsibilities of the prime minister. Gray said it is now “akin to a small government department” rather than just an office to support the national leader.
She described Number 10 leadership structures as “fragmented and complicated”, with no clear lines of accountability. Too much responsibility is put on the prime minister’s principal private secretary, currently Martin Reynolds.
Johnson responded by announcing the creation of a new department for the prime minister, with a dedicated permanent secretary.
The police are investigating 12 government events
Until now, the public has only learned about the government parties thanks to media reports, partly based off information leaks.
Gray reveals in her report that 12 of the 16 gatherings she has examined are now under criminal investigation by the Met, but she has not provided further details of these dozen until the police have completed their probe.
Two parties under investigation were not previously known about: one on June 18 2020, and another on January 14 2021. Whitehall insiders said both were to mark the departure of civil servants from the prime minister’s private office.
Gray said one gathering took place in Johnson’s Downing Street flat on November 13 2020: allegedly to celebrate the departure of his former chief adviser Dominic Cummings, now one of the prime minister’s leading critics.
Johnson is facing questions about whether he misled parliament about the party in the Downing Street flat. He told MPs on December 8 2021 there was no party on November 13 2020.
The partygate scandal is far from over
Soon after the Gray report was published, the Met revealed it had been handed 300 photographs of alleged government parties along with 500 documents containing messages and witness statements.
The police are expected to begin issuing fixed penalty notices in the coming weeks to those who attended parties that broke coronavirus restrictions. The Met has said police will not provide a running commentary, so it may never be known who has been fined.
But Conservative MPs will be watching to see if Johnson is fined given he attended a “bring your own booze” party in the Downing Street garden on May 20 2020.
This event is being investigated by the Met. “If the prime minister is found to have broken the law, that’s him finished,” said one Tory MP.
Tory MPs have likely suspended their final judgment
Johnson initially said Gray’s full report, including material she has held back at the request of the Met, may not be published, despite calls from MPs of all political parties for this to happen.
But Downing Street embarked on a U-turn on Monday evening and said the prime minister would ask Gray to publish a final report after the Met investigation is over.
People with knowledge of Gray’s work said her final report is “ready to roll”. “It is ready to go subject to a dusting down when the police are finished,” said one official.
Number 10’s decision to commit to publishing Gray’s full report means that a final judgment by some Conservative MPs on whether to seek a no-confidence vote in Johnson’s leadership has likely been delayed.
Tory MPs who are unhappy with Johnson will probably wait to see all of Gray’s findings before deciding whether to submit letters asking for a vote to Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 committee of Conservative backbenchers. A total of 54 MPs must demand a vote for one to happen.