Sue Gray was not in a position to publish the findings from her investigation into various gatherings in Downing Street. The police requested that only “minimal reference” be made to the events that they are investigating and, as a consequence, Gray stated that she was “extremely limited” in what she could say about them.
This may be an “extremely limited” update – but it tells us a great deal about what Sue Gray is thinking. After interviewing more than 70 witnesses, she concluded that “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 [italics, my own].” It is hard to interpret the italicised words as anything other than a very strong indication that she considers rules were broken. Gray also indicated that “failures of leadership and judgement” have been identified in No 10.
The update tells us that the police are investigating 12 events, two of which we know the Prime Minister attended, and one of which occurred in his own flat. The Metropolitan Police commissioner, Cressida Dick, has already told us that the threshold for an investigation was evidence of a “flagrant and serious breach” of the lockdown regulations.
Despite the bluster from the Prime Minister – in a bombastic and ill-judged performance in the House of Commons, exclaiming that Gray had not substantiated any of the allegations – it is perfectly obvious what she is thinking. If Johnson thinks otherwise, it suggests that his understanding of the Gray update is no better than his understanding of the Covid regulations.
At some point, the Gray report will be published. (Johnson refused to confirm that he will publish it in full when the police investigation is complete but Downing Street subsequently backed down. If the Prime Minister had refused to publish it, a parliamentary humble address would have been put before the House of Commons insisting upon its publication. Once the police enquiry was complete, there would have been a parliamentary majority to force publication.)
The question that Conservative MPs must now ask themselves is whether they are willing to wait for the full Sue Gray report. This may be months away, and in that time their constituents will be asking why they are waiting to act. We know enough about what happened; we know enough about the Prime Minister’s character and his unsuitability for public office. Keir Starmer – in his best parliamentary performance to date – forcefully made that case.
Again and again, Conservatives MPs will have to argue that Johnson deserves the benefit of doubt, knowing that the final Sue Gray conclusion will be damning. There is really not much doubt left anymore.
Sue Gray concluded her update by stating that “there is significant learning to be drawn from these events which must be addressed immediately across Government. This does not need to wait for the police investigations to be concluded.” Conservative MPs should know that they must take action. They do not need to wait for police investigations to be concluded, either.