The Hound

Boris Johnson drinks a glass of water at a hustings in Birmingham.

Sue Gray – gambler Boris puts his fate in hands of tough mandarin

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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.

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.

Boris Johnson

Is Boris Johnson in the last chance saloon?

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Senior Tories have lined up to castigate Boris Johnson after it emerged that the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, invited more than 100 aides to “socially distanced drinks” in the Downing Street gardens during the first coronavirus lockdown.

Edward Agar, the health minister, told Sky News he understood how “upset and angry” people must feel about the revelation and that he spent May 2020 “glued to Zoom”.

But former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said that the idea the public should wait for the outcome of Sue Gray’s internal inquiry “won’t survive 48 hours”.

She tweeted: “Nobody needs an official to tell them if they were at a boozy shindig in their own garden. People are (rightly) furious. They sacrificed so much – visiting sick or grieving relatives, funerals. What tf were any of these people thinking?”

Gavin Barwell, Theresa May’s former special adviser, described the illicit gathering – which the PM and his wife Carrie Johnson reportedly attended – as “unbelievable…and yet, in another sense, all too believable”.

One government frontbencher told the Guardian last night: “I think this is the worst exposed the prime minister has ever been by these leaks. There’s no explanation, there’s no way to distance himself. His only saviour is if the public has given up caring.”

The PM is facing calls for his resignation, with the Metropolitan Police probing the breach. One MP told the Telegraph that a Scotland Yard probe looks inevitable: “You don’t need Sue Gray to know whether a party took place. I don’t think the Met can afford not to act.”

Boris Johnson makes a speech as he visits a UK Food and Drinks market set up in Downing Street, London, Britain November 30, 2021. Picture taken November 30, 2021.

Boris accused of attending illicit Downing St lockdown bash

Remember when Matt Hancock as health secretary told the nation to not take advantage of the “beautiful weather” during the first coronavirus lockdown? Well, that is exactly what one of Boris Johnson’s most senior officials was urging government aides to do. This has been revealed in a leaked email to ITV News.

The Prime Minister’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, invited more than 100 members of staff to bring their own booze to Number 10 on 20 May 2020 – a time when only two people were allowed to socialise outdoors.

This was when the Metropolitan Police was warning citizens not to gather with more than one person outside their own household. The then culture secretary Oliver Dowden in a press conference held just two hours before the Downing Street bash reminded the public not to break the rules.  

A spokesperson for the PM has declined to comment in light of an ongoing internal inquiry into illicit parties involving officials, but the exposé proves that a gathering did indeed take place in Downing Street.

The ITV revelation opens the way for Sue Gray, charged with investigating the Number 10 parties, to summon Boris for a personal interview.