An anti-Boris Johnson protester holds a placard as a reference to the Sue Gray report, on the junction of Parliament Street and Parliament Square, in London, Jan. 26, 2022.
Boris Johnson has pledged to publish in full an official report into the various parties and other gatherings his Downing Street team, and sometimes the prime minister himself, attended in alleged breach of lockdown rules.
Johnson has defiantly rejected calls to resign. But his fate could depend on the outcome of civil servant Sue Gray’s inquiry into the garden parties, farewell drinks, Christmas fun and birthday bashes that reportedly went on while a large majority of the population obeyed instructions to forgo such events.
Earlier this week the eagerly-awaited publication of her report was thought to be imminent, but the timing is still unknown. With many MPs heading back to their constituencies for the weekend, it may not come until next week.
One theory is that the report may be undergoing legal checks to make sure that it does not compromise the police inquiry into events at Downing Street that Scotland Yard announced earlier this week. Government officials were still reportedly poring over final drafts on Thursday night.
Johnson ‘absolutely not’ delaying release
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“We haven’t received it yet,” a spokesperson for Johnson said of the Gray report earlier in the day while the prime minister, on a visit to Wales, insisted he was “absolutely not” seeking to postpone its release.
Asked to confirm that the government would publish it in full, the prime minister replied “of course”.
“Can the Prime Minister confirm that he will publish the full Sue Gray report as he receives it?” opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer asked Johnson in parliament on Wednesday, referring to a previous pledge he had made to place a copy in the House of Commons library.
“When I receive it, of course I will do exactly what I said,” the prime minister replied, without elaborating.
He has claimed he believed the events he attended were work-related, and that he was not told that gatherings broke lockdown rules. A key question for many critics is whether he lied to parliament.
Britain’s 57-year-old leader, in office since 2019, has defied calls to quit from both the opposition and some among his own party’s MPs and rank-and-file. Often accused of lying, his reputation is such that questions have been raised as to whether he or his circle may seek to withhold some of the findings.
“The report must be published in full. Any attempt to conceal or suppress crucial details would be wrong,” tweeted Tory backbencher Mark Harper on Thursday.
Former Conservative minister Rory Stewart, no longer in the party, argues that the limbo and uncertainty surrounding Johnson’s leadership, and the lack of trust in the prime minister himself, is damaging politics in general.
“Somebody who cannot be trusted should not be our leader,” he told Sky News. “Lying is not good in a prime minister. The problem we’re facing is that people’s expectations are so low, that they’re beginning to think ‘well, that doesn’t really matter’, or they’re thinking maybe all politicians are liars. Well, I’m afraid I don’t think that’s true, I think Boris Johnson is worse than many politicians.”
Waiting… and waiting… for Gray
For weeks government ministers and the prime minister’s supporters have trotted out endlessly the monotone mantra that they are “waiting for Sue Gray’s report”, before passing judgement on Johnson’s behaviour and position.
As the saga drags on, it has given birth to many a joke on social media and elsewhere about Groundhog Gray, Grayja Vu, and more.
“BREAKING: Govt strikes exclusive deal with Wordle to release Sue Gray report one word at a time until 2028,” tweeted the producers of one well-known satirical TV programme.
Even before “partygate”, Boris Johnson faced internal party revolt and criticism over other scandals and mishaps. Recent opinion polls have suggested Labour has opened up a double-digit lead.
On Thursday the prime minister dismissed as “total rhubarb” allegations that he had personally authorised an evacuation flight for animals from a Kabul shelter during the Taliban takeover last summer — while many Afghan people who had worked for the British were left behind.
The prime minister will be hoping that the lifting of most coronavirus restrictions in England on Thursday will be a popular, and indeed wise move. Johnson has repeatedly trumpeted the success of the vaccination rollout.
Once the Gray report is published, undecided Conservative politicians will have to weigh up whether to move to ditch their leader. A key factor will be whether they believe he can still win another election — the next national vote is scheduled for 2024 — or whether he has become a liability.
The party has not been kind to its leaders in the past when the latter conclusion has been reached.
Additional sources • AFP, AP