Dominic Cummings has said he is prepared to swear under oath that Boris Johnson was warned in advance against the plans to hold a party in the Downing Street garden on 20 May – a party which the Prime Minister attended but “believed implicitly” was a work event. This would mean that the Prime Minister misled parliament – and crucially, several anonymous officials have corroborated Cummings’ account to the BBC.
Many senior government officials have been working under the assumption, however naïve or otherwise, that Sue Gray’s inquiry will not criticise the Prime Minister personally. Cummings’ willingness to testify under oath, along with colleagues from the time, about what Johnson did or didn’t know throws the working assumption in Number 10 into serious doubt.
But the latest revelation from Cummings points to a deeper truth. Even if Johnson is personally spared from direct criticism by the Sue Gray inquiry, it appears unlikely that the Downing Street operation will be able to get through the report without multiple resignations by senior advisers and officials.
Many people who were not allies of Dominic Cummings say that there has been a lack of direction and focus in Number 10 since his departure, and that Johnson has struggled in his absence. An exodus of officials from Number 10 in the wake of the Sue Gray inquiry would temporarily spare the Prime Minister, but would leave him utterly isolated and his operation rudderless, even more so than he has been since the loss of the Vote Leave team from Downing Street. But it wouldn’t just cause chaos inside the tent, but would create a new cohort of enemies outside it and looking in.
Even if Boris Johnson survives Sue Gray’s report, it will likely create a new generation of bitter former Downing Street officials ousted from government and seeking revenge, just like Dominic Cummings. The best case scenario that Boris Johnson is hoping for isn’t really so great after all.