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Sue Gray report: Unanswered questions at heart of partygate scandal

A group of men dressed as Boris Johnson stage a protest at Downing Street

Sue Gray’s excoriating summary of lockdown busting parties at the heart of government has been published but major questions still hang over Boris Johnson – not least about his own future.

The senior civil servant looked into 16 separate gatherings, including three that had not previously been reported or disclosed, and 12 that appear to have reached the threshold for criminal investigation by police.

Ms Gray set out in the 12-page document that she is “extremely limited” in what she can say about the gatherings by the Met’s investigation.

She noted how she is unable to publish a “meaningful” report at this stage.

But with the full report locked away in Ms Gray’s safe until the police investigation has been concluded, MPs and the wider public face an even longer wait for answers.

Here are the key questions following Sue Gray’s update.

Which parties are the police investigating?

Sue Grey’s update confirms police will not be investigating four of the 16 gatherings considered by her team.

This includes an event on May 15 2020 when Boris Johnson, his then fiancée Carrie and up to 17 staff were pictured in the No 10 garden with wine and cheese when people were only allowed to meet one other person from outside their household outdoors.

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Officers will also not investigate an impromptu leaving do for aide Cleo Watson on November 27 where the prime minister made a short speech or a Department for Education Christmas party for up to two dozen staff on December 10.

A Christmas quiz attended by Boris Johnson on December 15 will also not be probed by the Met.

But they will investigate:

  • May 20 2020: A “bring our own booze” event in the garden of No 10
  • June 18: A leaving do at the Cabinet Office for a No 10 private secretary
  • June 19: A birthday party for the prime minister organised by his now wife and attended by up to 30 people
  • November 13: A gathering in Boris Johnson’s flat on the day his chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, and communications director, Lee Cain, left their roles. A separate gathering also took place at No 10
  • December 17:  A Christmas quiz for the Cabinet Secretary’s private office and another to mark the departure of a senior official. A third event to mark the departure of a No 10 official was held in Downing Street.
  • December 18: A gathering at No 10 ahead of the Christmas break that later led to the resignation of Allegra Stratton.
  • January 14 2021: A gathering in No 10 to mark the departure of two private secretaries
  • April 16: Two “boozy” leaving events in No 10 the night before the Queen mourned Prince Philip.

Did parties break lockdown rules?

Sue Grey stops short of saying in her update whether any of the gatherings actually broke the relevant guidance and regulations at the time.

She writes that it is “not for me to make a judgment on whether the criminal law has been broken; that is properly a matter for law enforcement”.

The civil servant notes she has been in regular contact with the Metropolitan Police as her work has progressed “in order for them to take decision on the gatherings under examination, including whether to launch their own investigation”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson with his wife Carrie
Prime Minister Boris Johnson with his wife Carrie

The update confirms for the first time that police are investigating all but four of the 16 gatherings.

It adds: “No conclusions should be drawn, or inferences made from this other than it is now for the police to consider the relevant material in relation to those incidents.

“The police have also said this does not in itself mean that they will decide to take further action or that there has necessarily been a breach of the regulations.”

Did Boris Johnson mislead Parliament?

Most people would probably struggle to tell you what they were doing on November 13 2020 but one man who might have an idea is Dominic Cummings.

That is the day Mr Cummings was photographed – some would say very deliberately – leaving Downing Street with a cardboard box after being sacked by Boris Johnson as one of his most senior aides.

The former adviser claims a party took place in the prime minister’s Downing Street flat on November 13 to celebrate his departure – something denied by his wife’s spokeswoman as “total nonsense”.

Dominic Cummings leaves 10 Downing Street
Dominic Cummings leaves 10 Downing Street

But Ms Gray’s update confirms police are now investigating a gathering on that date.

Asked at a session of Prime Minister’s Questions on December 8 last year if there was a party on that day, Mr Johnson replied: “No, but I’m sure that whatever happened the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.”

At that time only the party on December 18 was set to be investigated.

The problem for Mr Johnson is that if the police do now find evidence of a party or a gathering that broke lockdown rules, it would mean he misled Parliament and would be expected to resign as prime minister.

When will the full report be published?

Boris Johnson repeatedly refused to give a firm commitment that he will publish the full report – even when being pressed to do so by his own Conservative MPs.

The prime minister said he will “take a decision” after the Metropolitan Police conclude their separate probe into the allegations of parties.

After being asked repeatedly to commit to publishing the full report, Mr Johnson said: “What we’ve got to do is wait for the police to conclude their inquiries, that is the proper thing to do.

“People have given all sorts of evidence in the expectation that it would not necessarily be published, at that stage I will take a decision about what to publish.”

But the prime minister could face further pressure if he intends to block the full investigation from ever being released.

Posting on social media during Mr Johnson’s statement, Tobias Ellwood, another senior Tory MP, said: “The PM promised to publish the Sue Gray report in full so Parliament and the British people could better appreciate the facts and draw their own conclusions.

“If the PM fails to publish the report in full then he will no longer have my support.”

How did leading politicians react?

Boris Johnson said he “accepts Sue Gray’s general findings in full” and “above all her recommendation that we must learn from these events and act now”.

He told MPs he is “sorry for the things we simply didn’t get right and also sorry for the way that this matter has been handled”.

Mr Johnson said he will overhaul the operation in Downing Street and the Cabinet Office to address the concerns raised in the report, adding: “I get it and I will fix it.”

Sir Kier Starmer
Sir Kier Starmer

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the British people believe Boris Johnson should “do the decent thing and resign” but he is “a man without shame”.

Sir Keir told MPs: “By routinely breaking the rules he set, the prime minister took us all for fools, he held people’s sacrifice in contempt, he showed himself unfit for office.

“His desperate denials since he was exposed have only made matters worse. Rather than come clean, every step of the way he’s insulted the public’s intelligence.”

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accused the prime minister of being “guilty of serial failures of leadership and judgement” and claimed he has “clearly misled Parliament”.

“If the Tories allow him to continue as PM, they will all be complicit,” she said.

Meanwhile. SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford was ordered to leave the House of Commons after accusing Boris Johnson of having “wilfully misled” MPs over the Downing Street party allegations.

He was repeatedly asked by Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle to withdraw the claim, as it is considered against parliamentary etiquette to make such an assertion.

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