Questions still to be answered after release of Sue Gray report

Analysis: who was responsible for the failures of judgment, and is the ‘work event’ excuse considered plausible?

The much-anticipated report by the civil servant Sue Gray was published on Monday, but with a police inquiry now under way, it was limited in what it could say. Here we look at the questions it failed – or was unable – to answer.

Does the Met expect to question Boris Johnson?

Gray’s report doesn’t name who the police may wish to talk to, but there is an implicit suggestion that the prime minister is among those being investigated because of two events that are under scrutiny.

The two events – one in his private flat and one garden party that he attended – have been judged to be serious breaches of lockdown.

Johnson has always denied hosting events in his Downing Street flat, but the wording of Gray’s report suggests there is no ambiguity here.

Gray identifies failures of leadership and judgment – but by whom?

In other circumstances, Gray would have been expected to name Johnson and other senior No 10 figures who were responsible for the failings she identifies. Whitehall sources suggest she had the option of doing so but she has not named any of those she might have censured if she had more freedom.

There are some hints of whom she might have criticised or found mitigations for. She writes: “Too much responsibility and expectation is placed on the senior official whose principal function is the direct support of the prime minister. This should be addressed as a matter of priority.” This is understood to refer to Martin Reynolds, Johnson’s principal private secretary.

Who organised the gatherings, and how many people went to them?

Whitehall sources have always made clear that lists of junior officials who attended each event were never likely to be published, though HR disciplinary processes could follow and those officials could receive penalty charge notices. But there is an expectation that it might be disproportionate to allow all those names to become public.

The question of who organised the events is a different story, and throws the spotlight on Reynolds, who sent an email inviting people to summer drinks, and other senior staff who organised leaving or Christmas parties.

There is also a question about the flat party – should the Met now investigate the PM’s wife, Carrie Johnson?

Is it plausible that Johnson could have believed the garden gathering was a work event?

There is no focus on the prime minister’s claim that he thought “implicitly” that the May 2020 “bring your own booze” party organised in the Downing Street garden by his senior aide was a work meeting. But Gray does make some acknowledgment that the garden was used for work meetings.

That is not necessarily accepted as an excuse. Indeed, Gray finds that it was potentially inappropriate. “The use of the garden at No 10 Downing Street should be primarily for the prime minister and the private residents of No 10 and No 11 Downing Street,” she writes.

“During the pandemic, it was often used as an extension of the workplace as a more Covid-secure means of holding group meetings in a ventilated space. This was a sensible measure that staff appreciated, but the garden was also used for gatherings without clear authorisation or oversight. This was not appropriate. Any official access to the space, including for meetings, should be by invitation only and in a controlled environment.”


Jessica Elgot

The GuardianTramp

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