While we are now waiting for the Metropolitan Police investigation into a "number of events" at Downing Street and Whitehall, we continue to wait for Sue Gray. This latest development may well delay the publication of Gray’s report – or at least the parts of it relating to the Met’s investigation. But whatever the Met investigation’s impact on Gray’s timetable, it had already become apparent that the government was considering publishing only a summary version of her report. This would be wrong. For MPs to hold the prime minister to account, and for the public to be given a complete picture of events which have caused considerable anger, Gray’s report must be published in full.

This investigation is unlike previous Cabinet Office inquiries

Ministers have repeatedly said that the ‘findings’ of the Gray investigation will be made available to the public, but have held off from confirming that the full report and evidence on which Gray’s findings are based will be made available too. The prime minister makes the final decision on how much of the report to put into the public domain, and the lack of clarity from the government may be deliberate until the prime minister has had a chance to read the report and consider the impact of its release

There are precedents for publishing summary-only versions of investigations, with the inquiry into the alleged breach of the ministerial code by Damian Green resulting in the publication of only a summary of the main conclusions. There are also precedents for publishing the whole thing – the inquiry into allegations that Liam Fox broke the ministerial code was published in full. But this inquiry is unlike others, because in previous cases the prime minister was not the one being investigated. And the issues previously investigated, while very important, were not the same in magnitude as in this inquiry. There were aspects of the Damian Green investigation that complainants would reasonably have expected to be kept private, but in this inquiry, while there will rightly be HR redactions to protect the identities of junior members of staff, there is not the same case for keeping the full report private.

The public need the full story if trust in government is to be repaired

The importance of this investigation cannot be overstated. It involves claims that the prime minister and staff in Downing Street and the Cabinet Office on multiple occasions broke lockdown rules and guidance with parties and social events. That the prime minister might have misled parliament about his knowledge of these breaches. That these parties and social events happened at points of the pandemic when the public largely abided by the rules, often at huge personal cost. For allegations of this seriousness, only full transparency is appropriate.

Throughout this episode, the story has come out as a series of leaks. To begin rebuilding trust with citizens, and for government to draw a line under the affair and refocus on the work of governing, it is right for the public to now have access to the full information.  

MPs need the full story if they are to hold the prime minister to account

Just as important as giving the public the full story, MPs will only be able to hold the prime minister to account if they can read the entire report. Gray will conduct a thorough investigation, but the report is likely to be factual and will almost certainly avoid passing judgement on the prime minister. That is for MPs to do, and to do this MPs need to be in full receipt of the facts and evidence. If civil servants are to lose their jobs, MPs need to understand why – and what the implications are for ministerial responsibility. They need to understand what is known about the culture of Number 10 and any role the prime minister had in shaping that culture. And on the critical question of whether the prime minister misled the House, they need to have access to all the evidence available to understand what he knew, might have known or should have known.  

It is not the role of a senior civil servant to condemn or save the prime minister. That is a role reserved for MPs, parliament and ultimately the public. They must make up their own minds. To do that, they must have access to the full report. 

Original source – The Institute for Government

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