After the release of the full Sue Gray report, the Tory party is, once again, in total disarray because of, what one Tory MP described as ‘total failure of leadership’ on the part of Boris Johnson. While people up and down the country were adhering to strict Covid19 rules, wine and beer were flowing in Downing Street with the full knowledge, and in some cases, participation, of the Prime Minister.
The report makes for unsavoury reading particularly if put in the context of the rules that applied at the time. People were not allowed to meet up or visit relatives in nursing homes or hospitals, and partying amounted to breaking the law. Still, the Prime Minister only received one fine and remains intent on carrying on.
Sue Gray investigated 16 gatherings, and the police have since issued 126 fines to 83 people in total. Apart from the obvious rule-breaking, the investigation team cited incidents where Downing Street staff belittled cleaners and security personnel. And it is this culture, which many people associate with the Tory party, that has once again led to many MPs demanding Boris Johnson’s resignation.
The report cites incidents of vomiting, drinking till the early hours of the morning, and Downing Street staff laughing at cleaners, this at a time when gatherings were against the law. On the BBC, one participant told Laura Kuenssberg that the rooms were so crowded, that some people sat on other people’s laps. Reports of fights between staff also featured.
After the release of the report, the PM said he was “humbled by what happened”, admitting that the culture needed changing and vowing to take full responsibility. When asked about his attendance, he told reporters that he wanted to show “leadership” and thank staff members who were leaving. He also said that the gatherers only tipped into illegal behaviour after he had left.
Although many MPs and most Cabinet members have come out in support of the PM, York Outer MP, Julian Sturdy, said:
“Following the publication of the full Sue Gray report, I feel it is now in the public interest for the Prime Minister to resign”, adding that the “honesty, integrity and personal character of the Prime Minister” can no longer be relied upon.
These sentiments were echoed by the former minister, Stephen Hammond, on Sky News, while the chair of the Commons defence committee, Tobia Ellwood, went one step further in Parliament, appealing to fellow Tory MPs to demand Johnson’s resignation.
Tory party backbenchers urged to rally behind PM
But the numbers for and against the PM have largely remained the same since the beginning of this year. Johnson supporters have called on backbenchers to unite.
But Ms Gray’s findings of “multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff” have sparked deep anger. One Cabinet Office staff member told iNews:
“There’s been a culture of bullying, harassment and sexism in No 10 for many years”, adding that Boris Johnson’s apology would be “no consolation to the hard-working cleaners and security guards who have suffered under his leadership.”
When asked whether he would consider tending his resignation on Wednesday, the PM said:
“No matter how bitter and painful that the conclusions of this may be – and they are – and no matter how humbling they are, I have got to keep moving forward and the Government has got to keep moving. And we are.”
Possible scenarios following the publication of the Sue Gray report
It would take 54 Tory MP letters to trigger a leadership challenge. According to iNews, between 30 and 40 have been sent to the 1922 committee. While initial partygate revelations were expected to significantly increase that number, the slow unfolding of the story has put a possible leadership challenge on the backburner. Added to that, the war in Ukraine and the dwindling popularity of the Chancellor who once was the clear choice for successor.
In a different scenario, it is now open to the Commons Privileges Committee to launch its own investigation to determine whether the PM deliberately misled Parliament. If it finds against the PM, he could be held in contempt of Parliament. Although an official breach of the ministerial code would see the PM’s resignation as the logical outcome, the Committee cannot force Johnson to resign.
The police could also reopen their investigation on the back of the damning report. The force came in for heavy criticism because it issued fines to many individuals attending the same events as the PM who got away without receiving any additional penalties.
A deeper investigation into the Abba party may produce fresh damning allegations that will ultimately lead to the PM’s resignation. Sue Gray said in her report that she had been unable to look into reports of a party on the night Dominic Cummings left. Boris Johnson’s wife, alongside other staff members, is said to have listened to Abba late into the night in the upstairs flat. A short police investigation did not lead to any fines, but Dal Babu, former Met Police Chief Superindentent said:
“I don’t think there is a great deal of confidence that their [the police] investigation has been thorough and appropriate.
“I think both, from what I can gather, both Sue Gray and the police haven’t examined the party in the flat.”