Sue Gray Report: Boris Johnson Might Have 'Got Away With It', But What Happens Next?

The prime minister looks to have survived the day, but the privileges committee and the public will soon also deliver a verdict.
Leon Neal via Getty Images

Someone was sick from excessive drinking, a karaoke machine was wheeled in, the parties went on until 4am red wine was spilled up the walls.

The Downing Street cleaners, who had to deal with the mess, were treated with a “lack of respect”.

Sue Gray’s report into the partygate saga, a series of lockdown busting social events in No.10 and Whitehall, was released on Wednesday.

The civil servant blamed political and official “senior leadership”, presumably the prime minister, for what happened.

One senior Boris Johnson aide, the report shows, had whatsapped a colleague after one drinking party that they “seem to have got away with” it.

And while the report is damning, Johnson appears to have made it through the day without a serious challenge to his leadership from Tory MPs.

But he has not gotten away with it quite yet. This is what happens next.

The privileges committee

The Metropolitan Police investigation is over. As is Gray’s. But another parliamentary inquiry is shortly set to start.

MPs on the Commons privileges committee are due open an investigation into whether the prime minister misled parliament.

On multiple occasions, in parliament, Johnson denied knowledge of any rule breaking in No.10.

On December 1, 2021, Johnson told the Commons: “All guidance was followed completely in No.10.”

Later that month he also told parliament he was “sure that whatever happened, the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times”.

On December 8, 2021, Labour MP Catherine West asked him: “Can the prime minister tell the House whether there was a party in Downing Street on November 13?”

Johnson told her: “No. But I’m sure whatever happened the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times”.

The Gray report includes photographs showing the prime minister raising a glass while stood behind a table littered with wine bottles and food at a leaving do for departing communications director Lee Cain.

The pictures were first made public by ITV News earlier this week.

At the time, only two people from different households were allowed to mix indoors – unless it was for work purposes.

In a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Johnson said he believed it was part of his work, his “duty”, to offer a speech and toast in person.

The ministerial code states that “ministers who knowingly mislead parliament will be expected to offer their resignation”.

But the key word there is “knowingly” – Johnson’s defence has been that he did not think anything he did broke the laws that he had imposed on the country.

And even if the committee does decide Johnson misled parliament, he does not have to resign. The person in charge or enforcing the ministerial code, is Johnson.

The public

Ultimately it seems unlikely the prime minister would resign. Instead his fate rests in the hands of his MPs.

It takes 54 of them to demand a no confidence vote in his leadership before a contest can be triggered.

Johnson being fined by police for breaking Covid laws did not cause that threshold to be met. And so far as is known, neither has the Gray report. And even being found to have misled the Commons might not be enough.

But that might change if Conservative MPs believe Johnson is no longer the election winner he once was.

In June, there will be two by-elections, probably on the same day. The 23rd is seen as the likely date.

Wakefield in Yorkshire and Tiverton and Honiton in Devon will be electing new MPs. Both are currently held by the Conservatives.

But the party risks losing Wakefield to Labour and Tiverton to the Lib Dems amid a spiralling cost of living crisis and any fallout from partygate.

The contest in Wakefield was triggered after Conservative MP Imran Ahmad Khan was convicted for sexually assaulting a boy.

The Tories won the seat by 3,358 votes in 2019, until then it had been held by Labour since 1932.

In Tiverton, a by-election was triggered after Tory MP Neil Parish quit over revelations he watched porn on his phone in the Commons chamber.

Parish won the seat in 2019 with a healthy majority of 24,239 over Labour, and it has been Conservative since its creation in 1997.

But while Labour is currently in second place, the constituency had for many years been a close fight between the Tories and the Lib Dems.

The Lib Dems, boosted by the capture of neighbouring Somerset council in the local elections earlier this month, are hoping for a resurgence in their former south west heartland.

The party is aiming to repeat its success at the recent North Shropshire by-election, where it overturned a 23,000 Tory majority held by disgraced MP Owen Paterson.

If the Conservatives lose both seats, Tory MPs might decide Johnson is leading them to a general election disaster and move against him. Or n


What's Hot