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31 January 2022

Sue Gray’s report leaves a bomb under Boris Johnson

It is now far harder for Downing Street to draw a line under the affair without ending Johnson’s premiership.

By Stephen Bush

Boris Johnson is under investigation for repeated violations of his own coronavirus restrictions, including in his own flat. That, in many ways, is really the only headline that matters from Sue Gray’s short update on her inquiry into alleged gatherings on government premises.

Because 12 of the 16 alleged gatherings in Downing Street are being investigated by the Metropolitan Police, Gray has opted to release a short update rather than the full report. That’s a boost for the Prime Minister’s hopes of survival this week, in that it means the grisly details of Gray’s report will not be pored over in the next few days.

[See also: How long will it take the Met Police to investigate No 10?]

But in the longer term, the report is a disaster in two ways. Firstly, the demand that the details must be published in full will surely become a background hum for the rest of Johnson’s time in office. Whenever the opposition parties have a quiet week, or for some reason need to avoid questions on the matter of the day, they will always be able to return to the same old request: publish Gray’s findings in full. As Gray writes, she is currently unable to provide a “meaningful” report into the alleged gatherings: given that state of affairs will change, it is hard to see how the government can resist pressure to provide an update to Gray’s update at some point in the future.

Secondly: the Prime Minister is under investigation by the police. As, by extension, are members of his staff. The overwhelmingly likely scenario is that over the coming days, weeks and months, further details will leak out, both from the police investigation and the people under investigation. 

Downing Street’s big hope has always been that it could use Sue Gray’s report to draw a line underneath the allegations of further parties. Instead, the report has primed a series of explosive devices underneath Boris Johnson’s administration – with no certainty that they can be defused or safely dealt with without bringing his premiership to an abrupt end.

[See also: Boris Johnson may survive – but only by doing yet more damage to the UK]

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