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Sue Gray: Who is she, what is she investigating, and could this lead to the resignation of the prime minister?

Sue Gray probed the serious allegations.

Tories loyal to Boris Johnson have defended allegations of parties during lockdown, saying the public needs to wait for the outcome of the Sue Gray report.

That report, which is investigating numerous alleged parties in Downing Street and Whitehall during the pandemic, is now expected – and it will have serious ramifications for the future of the prime minister.

Here is all you need to know about Sue Gray, what she is investigating, and whether her report could lead to the resignation of the prime minister.

Who is Sue Gray?

Sue Gray is a senior civil servant and is currently the second permanent secretary at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

She has worked under a number of prime ministers. It’s been said she is anxious to ensure junior staff don’t take the blame for wider failings in No 10.

Ms Gray has experience in dealing with high-profile investigations into MPs’ personal conduct – in 2017 she led an investigation which found Damian Green had broken the ministerial code, leading to his resignation.

In her former role as director-general of propriety and ethics in the Cabinet Office between 2012 and 2018, she is said to have overseen cabinet reshuffles, helped compile honours lists, and signed off political memoirs before their publication.

What is she investigating?

Ms Gray probed allegations of 16 different parties in Downing Street at Whitehall during the coronavirus lockdown.

Michael Ellis, the paymaster general, told the House of Commons in December 2021 an inquiry would look into gatherings held in Downing Street on November 27, 2020 and December 18, 2020.

The report will investigate alleged parties at No 10

One of these events was a leaving do for senior aide Cleo Watson where Mr Johnson is said to have given a speech, and the second is a Christmas party.

Since then, the inquiry has been widened to cover a number of other alleged parties, including a garden party in Downing Street on May 20, 2020 where principal private secretary to the prime minister Martin Reynold sent an email inviting around 100 people to bring their own alcohol and “make the most of the lovely weather”.

Other parties included in this list are two parties held by No 10 staff on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral in April 2021 and a drinks party at the Department of Education on 10 December, 2020.

Then on January 25, Downing Street conceded staff “gathered briefly” in the Cabinet Room on the afternoon of June 19 2020 – the PM’s birthday.

There were reports suggesting they shared cake and sang “happy birthday” to the Prime Minister, despite social mixing indoors being banned.

Timeline of events from the Institute for Government
Timeline of events from the Institute for Government

How was Sue Gray chosen?

Initially this inquiry was supposed to be carried out by Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service Simon Case.

However, he was forced to step aside from this task after allegations emerged he had also held a drinks gathering in his office.

After this it was handed over to Ms Gray instead.

Who is involved in this investigation?

Ms Gray is being supported by lawyers from the UK Government’s legal department and all ministers, special advisers and civil servants have been told to cooperate with her.

She has access to all relevant records including internal emails, calendar invites and Downing Street’s entry and exit logs.

Ms Gray has also been interviewing members of staff and has asked some Downing Street officials to hand over their mobile phones.

When will we get the results of this inquiry?

The report was widely tipped for release on January 26.

Boris Johnson expected to be given advance sight of the report summary, to make this public and give a statement on it in the House of Commons.

However, there were new concerns the inquiry could still be paused or affected in some way by a police investigation, announced on January 25.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson

After the Met Police confirmed they are looking into these parties, a spokesman for the Cabinet Office said: “The investigation being carried out by Sue Gray is continuing.

“There is ongoing contact with the Metropolitan Police Service.”

It is unlikely the report will be publicly published in its entirety, and any specific action against junior employees will remain confidential.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have called for the full report, along with all accompanying emails and witness accounts, to be made publicly available.

Will there be any disciplinary action?

This is an internal inquiry as opposed to a parliamentary or an independent inquiry, which means the Cabinet Office and ultimately the prime minister will have the final say.

Any decisions on disciplinary action against civil servants on the back of this report will be made by Simon Case, the cabinet secretary and head of the civil service who is accused himself of holding a drinks gathering.

Simon Case, cabinet secretary and head of the civil service
Simon Case, cabinet secretary and head of the civil service

It will be up to the prime minister to rule on any disciplinary action against political staff.

If the investigation finds Boris Johnson’s own conduct is questioned by the report, he could refer the report’s findings onto Lord Geidt, the independent adviser on ministerial interests.

And if there is any evidence a criminal offence has taken place, this will be passed onto the police.

What about Boris Johnson?

If the investigation finds the prime minister was warned and knew about these parties, it would almost certainly force his resignation as he would have misled parliament and breached the ministerial code.

A leadership challenge against him could also be lodged if MPs submit letters of no confidence in him to Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee of backbenchers.

Some MPs who remain loyal to Mr Johnson have repeatedly said in the past few days and weeks they want to wait for the outcome of the report before deciding on whether or not to continue backing him as prime minister.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab says Tory MPs are rallying behind Mr Johnson because of things such as the success of the booster vaccination programme.

This means there is still a chance Mr Johnson could survive to fight another day, but other MPs say it is hard to see how the report can conclude these alleged parties did not breach lockdown guidelines at the time.

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