Behind the scenes

The possible outcomes of the Sue Gray report

Whitehall probe could trigger wave of civil service sackings – or Boris Johnson’s resignation

A Scotland Yard request that Sue Gray’s inquiry report should make “minimal reference” to Downing Street parties being investigated by police has triggered whitewash allegations. 

In a statement, the Met Police said that “we have had ongoing contact with the Cabinet Office, including on the content of the report, to avoid any prejudice to our investigation”. But that argument was dismissed as “absolute nonsense” in tweeted criticism from a former chief crown prosecutor, amid widespread anger.

Following multiple delays blamed on the emergence of new evidence, the much-anticipated probe findings are not expected to be published until next week at the earliest – but pundits are already predicting the possible fallout for Boris Johnson and Co. 

1

No confidence vote

When the report finally sees the light of day, MPs will “pore over it closely”, said The Guardian.

Dozens of Conservatives have reportedly said they will “consider submitting a letter expressing no confidence in the prime minister” if there is any proof that he misled the Commons, or if there is evidence of criminality.

If 54 letters were submitted to the 1922 Committee, a vote would be triggered. If more than 50% of Tory MPs voted to remove Johnson, he would lose his role as party leader and as PM, and be barred from competing in the subsequent leadership election.

2

Westminster clear-out

The report might not be as politically incendiary as was expected, particularly if Gray’s harshest criticism is reserved for civil servants.

In that case, Johnson could “overhaul his Downing Street team and other key parts of the government machine” as pressure on him to resign “recedes”, said The Guardian.

Such a clear-out might “be enough to win MPs over”, allowing the PM to escape a vote of no confidence “through the eye of a needle”.

3

PM’s resignation

If the report is particularly harsh on Johnson, it might trigger a wave of resignations by ministers who say “they can no longer defend” the PM, The Times predicted. This in turn could see Johnson’s authority “drain away”, forcing him to “quit, humiliated”.

4

Police fines

“Dozens” of government staff may face fines of up to £100 for flouting Covid restrictions by attending Downing Street parties during lockdowns, said the Daily Mail.

According to The Telegraph, people who police believe can be proven to have attended the gatherings at Downing Street “are expected to be contacted in the coming weeks to be informed they are being issued with fixed penalty notices”. But they “are unlikely to be interviewed by detectives” or to be publicly named.

The Daily Mirror’s political editor Pippa Crerar tweeted that No. 10 chief of staff Dan Rosenfield this week told staffers that the fines were “like getting a fixed penalty fine for speeding” and were “nothing to worry about”.

5

Disciplinary action

According to the inquiry’s terms of reference, “if required, the investigations will establish whether individual disciplinary action is warranted”. The BBC reported that “any specific HR action against individual members of staff – either civil servants or political advisers – would be confidential”.

6

Another inquiry

As a senior civil servant, Gray is unlikely to rule directly on whether Johnson broke the Ministerial Code. But “she might provide sufficient evidence about what the prime minister knew, or should have known”, said the Institute for Government.

Gray could recommend that Johnson’s adviser on ministerial interests, Christopher Geidt, look into his boss’s behaviour, “in which case the prime minister would be under pressure to allow Geidt to conduct his own inquiry”, the independent think tank added.

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