LBC Views: Sue Gray's report still carries risks for Boris

20 May 2022, 12:10

With the publication of the Sue Gray report imminent Police Editor Theo Usherwood gives his LBC Views
With the publication of the Sue Gray report imminent Police Editor Theo Usherwood gives his LBC Views. Picture: LBC
Theo Usherwood

By Theo Usherwood

Now the Met Police has concluded its investigation, the path has been cleared for Sue Gray to publish her report into Party-gate. 

The plan, as things stand, is for the Government to put it into the public domain next week.

Parliament rises on Thursday for a ten-day recess and this offers Number 10 a natural firebreak where MPs return to their constituencies and any backlash would be much easier to manage than if backbenchers were in Westminster.

However, there is no guarantee we’ll get the full report next week.

For starters, everyone mentioned in the report by name will have the chance to review the excerpts that are relevant to them. It may be at this point that lawyers get involved and the process could become drawn out as Sue Gray’s depiction of events is challenged.

The second issue is the Met is not revealing the names of anyone who has been fined. That makes it impossible for Sue Gray to tally her findings with the finding of the Met. One official might be depicted as a wild party animal but if the Met has only issued that individual with one fixed penalty notice, then we will have situation where the findings of a criminal investigation do not match the findings of a Whitehall inquiry.

And Sue Gray has no way of telling whether she is in line with the Met, or actually what they have discovered is way out of kilter with her own report.

A solution will of course be found. It is, after all, in Number 10’s interests to get this report out sooner, rather than later.

And the PM will certainly not feel like a winner, if Sue Gray let it be known that she thinks all of the inconvenient facts uncovered in her report have been scrawled over with a large, black Sharpie, for the sake of making sure the report is published at a time to suit the PM without revealing the identities of anyone not elected.

But that of course comes with its own, obvious risks.

For whilst Sue Gray will not cast any judgement on whether Boris Johnson broke the ministerial code, or if he should remain in post, the evidence she presents is likely to undermine the PM’s previous claims that he did not know the rules were being broken by the Downing Street parties. 

The potential pitfall for Number 10 is that Tory MPs, who want rid of the PM, might use the publication as their chance to make a move.

But Mr Johnson has said he will fight any no confidence vote, his opponents need to be sure they can secure the 180-odd votes they require to win a secret ballot.

At the moment, at least, it doesn’t feel like we are there yet. Instead, Tories seem to be looking ahead to the two crucial by-elections in Tiverton and Honiton in Devon, and then the Red Wall seat of Wakefield, in West Yorkshire.

The Lib Dems and Labour appear to have, at the very least, an informal pact. Sir Ed Davey’s party will throw everything they have down in the south-west, whilst Keir Starmer will be keen to prove he has what it takes to win back one of the crucial seats Labour lost in 2019.

If both men are successful, that could spell major trouble for Boris Johnson. His USP for Tory MPs has always been that he is more popular than the Conservative Party itself at the ballot box.

He is a man who won the mayoralty in London – a Labour city – twice. Lose those by-elections, and with the cost-of-living crisis biting, and only set to get worse, those on the backbenches might feel they would stand a better chance of retaining their seats, and power, at the next election with a new leader at the helm.