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Under fire over the illicit party in the Downing Street garden (or boozy shindig as an outraged Baroness Davidson, former Scottish Tory leader described it) Number 10 has spent the hours since the story broke hiding behind Sue Gray.
Ministers and spokespersons have insisted it would be improper to comment while an investigation is underway led by Sue Gray, a serving official. Gray is interviewing witnesses and gathering evidence about a host of illegal parties. There are so many allegations that Labour’s Angela Eagle MP joked in the Commons today that it might be easier if Gray investigated the days in Number 10 when there weren’t parties.
This use by Boris Johnson of Gray as a shield is a highly risky strategy, worried ministers acknowledge. Says one: “If you keep saying this is for Sue Gray to decide. Sue Gray, Sue Gray, Sue Gray. Then you are opening yourself up to a pretty messy outcome if Sue Gray finds against you and you have built her up as the arbiter.”
Indeed, this “in Sue Gray we trust” approach being deployed by Number 10 means that if she finds wrong-doing (not hard to do) and if she blames the Prime Minister directly then it cannot be brushed away.
That’s a big if though. What will Gray conclude when she reports, perhaps as early as next week? She has a reputation as a toughie, a mandarin long known for a strict adherence to the rules.
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There may be another temporary get out in prospect, if the cops – the Metropolitan police – do announce a full investigation into the partying in the garden in May 2020. That was when the country was in lockdown and restricted to meeting one other person alone outside, when families buried their loved ones without proper funerals and thousands died or suffered alone.
A police investigation announced soon potentially could buy the current Prime Minister a little time, a few months. Gray won’t be able to report, runs the thinking, while the police are investigating.
What a humiliating mess. It leaves the Number 10 team in the bizarre, reduced circumstances of wanting or perhaps even needing to be investigated by the police. How the mighty have fallen.