After months of hype, and a tumultuous period of leaks, denials and fines, perhaps it was inevitable that the Sue Gray report would fall flat, writes Mattie Brignal.

Yes the 37-page document paints a damning picture of a Downing Street completely divorced from the caution towards Covid, and Covid rules, that the rest of the country exercised at the time.

There are accounts of staff fighting, being sick, and mocking cleaners and security staff at boozy parties that Gray said “should not have been allowed to take place”.

The attitude of Martin Reynolds, a top aide to the PM, seems to have reflected the wider culture. In a WhatsApp message sent before one bash, he warns people to “be mindful” not to be spotted by cameras while carrying drinks. In another he gloats to a colleague about a drinks gathering: “We seem to have got away with it”.

In short, rule-breaking was rife – and a bit of a joke.

But we already knew this from Gray’s interim findings released in January. And despite compelling evidence of pre-planned lockdown-breaking events that no one – Boris Johnson included – can have believed were within the rules, Gray refused to point the finger. The blame, she said vaguely, lies with “the senior leadership at the centre, both political and official”.

In a watered down conclusion, Gray acknowledges that changes are already being made to tighten up the No.10 operation. Given that Downing Street was jittery enough about the report’s contents to try to stop it being published, Johnson will have been delighted with the finished product. There was no knock-out blow.

In front of MPs in the Commons and then in a televised press conference, the PM set out “vital context” to his actions and those of his staff. He talked about “work events” (which didn’t exist), how hard staff were working, that it was only right for leavers to be thanked for their service, and the need for keeping morale high. Just the sort of reasonable human impulses the rest of us were banned from acting on.

Johnson said he took “full responsibility” for the goings on: “I am humbled and I have learnt a lesson.” But he maintained that he believed he was acting within the rules.

The PM met with members of the influential 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers this evening to smooth things over and try to draw a line under the affair. In the Commons, Tory MPs stayed tight-lipped, suggesting grudging support.

While the greased piglet seems to have slipped free once again, it’s not the end of the saga. Johnson’s next challenge is the standards committee inquiry which will determine if he misled Parliament.

Staff were reportedly stunned when the PM told the Commons multiple times that no rules had been broken in Downing Street. Johnson corrected the record today, saying that what he told the House “was what I believed to be true.”

In some ways the damage has already been done. A snap YouGov poll after the report was published found that 59 per cent of voters believe the PM should quit.

Lobby Akinnola, spokesman for the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, said: “When they were texting colleagues about getting away with it, we were having to text our families telling them they couldn’t come to their loved ones’ funerals.”

It’s this lingering resentment that could do for Johnson in the end.