Brace yourself – Sue Gray’s report is about to tell us everything we already know

We’ve had the police investigation, which found Boris Johnson had broken the law while in office, and nothing’s going to happen about that, either

Tom Peck
Monday 23 May 2022 17:09
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<p>There is currently furious backchanneling going on in Downing Street</p>

There is currently furious backchanneling going on in Downing Street

Brace yourself. Brace yourself. Any moment now, the Sue Gray report could drop, tell us what we already know, after which nothing will happen.

We’ve had the police investigation now, which found Boris Johnson had broken the law while in office, and nothing’s going to happen about that (such is the high standards in public life now, that Johnson’s supporters really do consider themselves to have been vindicated, the entire thing has been a triumph, because their man only received one criminal sanction, rather than four that were expected).

And Sue Gray’s report will be exactly the same. It’s important to explain that the police investigation and the Gray report are different – but not that different. The police investigation merely set out to issue people with the appropriate penalties for breaking the law in Downing Street, which the prime minister did, but doesn’t care.

Sue Gray’s investigation is different, insofar as her job has been to investigate what was going on in Downing Street, and why it all went so horribly wrong. She will have no choice but to pass judgement on the quality of leadership to be found there. And she will ultimately come to the same conclusion as the police – that Boris Johnson is not fit to be prime minister, but as he and everyone else has known that for years already, there is no reason to expect anything to change.

It is suggested that Simon Case, the overwhelmingly underqualified cabinet secretary, will be expected to resign to get Johnson off the hook. Which maybe it will, but when you consider he had been expected to do the Sue Gray report into illegal parties in Downing Street himself, but then had to recuse himself when he “discovered” one of said parties had happened in his own office, it would hardly seem to be the most unjust outcome.

There is currently furious backchanneling going on in Downing Street, concerning what will and won’t be published. Who will be named? We now know there are photographs of Boris Johnson allegedly raising a glass at someone’s leaving do. Could there be more? And could said photographs actually vindicate Johnson and others, as they may show these “parties” to be rather more staid affairs than the public imagines?

None of them are going to help Johnson in the fully third investigation he faces on the neverending Downing Street party saga. That’s the one being undertaken by the House of Commons standards committee. That investigation will have to ask whether Johnson knowingly misled the House of Commons.

When, for example, he said there had been no parties, that the guidance was followed at all times. It will have to conclude, whether he really was stupid enough to have attended parties without knowing there were parties. Or whether he was, as seems overwhelmingly more likely, lying.

But so what if it does? It is only a convention that a minister should offer their resignation if they’re found to have lied to the commons. Johnson already has an extremely well established track record of not caring about these things. When his ethics adviser told him Priti Patel had broken the ministerial code and should be sacked, he sacked the standards adviser and ordered his MPs to come to Patel’s defence.

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When Owen Paterson was found to have broken the rules, Johnson did not, as is often misunderstood, come to Paterson’s defence as Paterson was a friend. He used Paterson’s predicament as a pretext through which to take down the standards commissioner who was also investigating his attempts to set up a weird charitable trust to meet the £200,000 cost for his flat refurbishment, and his explanations for which were very clearly untrue.

All of this will have a very familiar ending, which will be with the prime minister ever further bang to rights but without the required microdrop of shame to do the decent thing about it. And don’t expect his MPs to either, for no greater reason than they know they are hopelessly out of their depth, and even the honest ones among them simply haven’t got a clue what to do.

There is talk of a leadership election in July. It may well come to pass. But if the prompt for them to take action is Sue Gray telling them what they have already known for a very long time, then it is possible that from this dank reservoir of no talent whatsoever, salvation may not be found.

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