Senior civil servant Sue Gray will soon set out the findings of her investigation into a series of parties in Downing Street and Whitehall that took place when COVID restrictions were in place.
Plans to publish the full report earlier this year had to be scrapped after the Met Police announced on January 23 that they were launching a criminal investigation in partygate.
The force called for only ‘minimal reference’ to be made to the events under investigation when Ms Gray provided a 12-page ‘update’ to Parliament on January 31.
She explained at the time that the police investigation meant she was ‘extremely limited’ in what she could say and it was ‘not possible at this time to provide a meaningful report’ exposing everything she had discovered.
But, while the tentative findings lacked specific details, they were nonetheless damning. The clean report said the Downing Street lockdown rallies represented a “serious failure of leadership” and were “difficult to justify”.
The conclusion of the Met Police investigation – which resulted in 126 fixed penalty notices issued to 83 people, including the Prime Minister and Chancellor – means the full report can now be published.
This is expected to happen as early as the middle of next week.
Who is Sue Gray?
Sue Gray is a longtime senior civil servant who is currently the Second Permanent Secretary of the Department of Leveling Up.
Previously, she spent six years as Managing Director of Property and Ethics at the Cabinet Office, starting in 2012.
Former Prime Minister Theresa May asked her to investigate Tory MP Damian Green on allegations that he lied about the presence of pornographic images on his computer Commons.
Ms. Gray also directed the so-called “plebgate” survey in allegations that then-Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell insulted police officers in Downing Street.
She was Permanent Secretary to the Northern Ireland Department of Finance from 2018 to 2021, then returned to the Cabinet Office as second Permanent Secretary before joining her current department.
What was she investigating?
Sue Gray was appointed to lead the investigation last December. It came after the country’s top civil servant, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, stepped down from overseeing the inquiry after allegations that a party had taken place outside his office.
The terms of reference for the survey state that “the main objective will be to quickly establish a general understanding of the nature of the gatherings, including participation, setting and purpose, with reference to compliance with the guidelines in force at the time.
“If necessary, investigations will establish whether individual disciplinary action is warranted.”
In her tentative findings, she said she interviewed 70 people, some more than once, and reviewed emails, WhatsApp messages, photographs, building entry logs and other official documents.
While the Met Police investigation covered 12 events, Sue Gray’s investigation will cover 16 that took place in 2020 and 2021, when COVID restrictions were in place.
- 15 May 2020 – “A photograph showing a number of groups in the garden of 10 Downing Street.”
- May 20, 2020: ‘A gathering in the garden of No 10 Downing Street for No 10 staff.’
- June 18, 2020: ‘A rally at the Cabinet Office, 70 Whitehall over the departure of a No 10 Private Secretary.’
- June 19, 2020: “A rally in the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street on the Prime Minister’s birthday.”
- November 13, 2020: “A gathering in apartment number 10.”
- November 13, 2020: “A rally at 10 Downing Street on the occasion of the departure of a special adviser.”
- November 27, 2020: “A rally at 10 Downing Street on the occasion of the departure of a special adviser.”
- December 10, 2020: “Rally at the Ministry of Education before the Christmas holidays.
- December 15, 2020: “A rally at 10 Downing Street for an online Christmas quiz.”
- December 17, 2020: “A rally at the Cabinet Office, 70 Whitehall to hold an online Christmas quiz for the private office of the Cabinet Secretary.”
- 17 December 2020: ‘A rally at the Cabinet Office, 70 Whitehall on the departure of a senior Cabinet Office official.’
- December 17, 2020: “A rally at No 10 Downing Street on the occasion of the departure of an official from No 10.”
- December 18, 2020: “A gathering at 10 Downing Street before the Christmas holidays.”
- January 14, 2021: “A rally at No 10 Downing Street on the occasion of the departure of two No 10 Private Secretaries.”
- April 16, 2021: “A rally at No 10 Downing Street on the occasion of the departure of the official No 10.”
- April 16, 2021: “A rally at No 10 Downing Street as another No 10 official departs.”
What was the conclusion of its interim report?
the update released on January 31 concluded that “a number” of gatherings “should not have taken place or developed as they did”.
The report states that “some of the behavior surrounding these gatherings is difficult to justify” and that “at least some of the gatherings represent a serious failure to uphold not only the high standards expected of those who work at the heart of government, but also the standards expected of all British people at the time”.
Ms Gray said she had seen ‘failures of leadership and judgment from different parts of Number 10 and the Cabinet Office’.
She said the garden at 10 Downing Street was used for gatherings without clear permission or supervision, and “some staff wanted to raise concerns about behavior they witnessed at work, but sometimes felt unable to do so. To do”.
She ended her report by saying, “There are important lessons to be learned from these events that need to be addressed immediately across government and that need not await the conclusion of police investigations.”
What has happened since?
Immediately after the publication of the interim report, Boris Johnson has apologized in the Commons and promised a reshuffle of No 10, insisting: ‘I understand and I will fix it.’
Mr Johnson said: “I mean sorry – and I’m sorry for the things that we just didn’t do well and also sorry for the way this matter was handled.
“There’s no point in saying this or that was okay and there’s no point in saying people were working hard. This pandemic has been difficult for everyone.”
Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer replied: ‘It is already clear that what the report has revealed is the most damning conclusion possible.
Days after Sue Gray’s interim report was published, four senior Downing Street aides quit: Chief of Staff Dan Rosenfield; director of communications, Jack Doyle; Principal Private Secretary, Martin Reynolds; and Chief Political Advisor Munira Mirza.
Boris Johnson also carried out a mini reshuffle and promoted MP Steve Barclay to chief of staff and MP Andrew Griffith to chief policy officer. Some changes have also been made to the structure of Number 10 and the Cabinet Office.
What more can we expect in the full results?
Senior government officials are already anticipating a “turning stomach” report which risks making it very uncomfortable for the Prime Minister to read.
Many more details are expected on each of the 16 events she investigated. However, it will be a factual account rather than documentary evidence – such as photographs collected during the investigation.
What’s unclear is whether Sue Gray will go beyond providing a factual account of what happened and assign blame to those who may be responsible.
His team is contacting people who might be mentioned in the final report, but they won’t list those who attended each event.
Several Tory MPs have said they will not pass judgment on Boris Johnson’s future until they have read Sue Gray’s full report. Much will be focused on whether there are new calls for his resignation from the Conservative benches.
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