What is the update?

On 31 January 2022, Sue Gray, the second permanent secretary at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities published an update – rather than a complete report – on her investigation into alleged gatherings on government premises during covid restrictions. [1]

The update explains that “it is not possible at present to provide a meaningful report setting out and analysing the extensive factual information [she has] been able to gather” because the Metropolitan Police are investigating some of the gatherings.

What does the update say?

The update confirms the dates of the events under the scope of the investigation. There are 16 in total, with the first taking place on 15 May 2020 and the most recent on 16 April 2021. Gray states that only four of these 16 gatherings “are not considered to have reached the threshold for criminal investigation” as a result of the information she provided. That means 12 are currently under investigation by the Metropolitan Police.

The update does however present seven general findings:

  • Some of the government’s behaviour is “difficult to justify” given the “backdrop of the pandemic”
  • Some of the gatherings represent a “serious failure” to observe the high standards expected of the government
  • Some of the events “should not have been allowed to take place”; others not “allowed to develop as they did” – signifying “failures of leadership and judgment”
  • The government should introduce a clear policy to cover the consumption of alcohol in the workplace
  • The No.10 garden was used for gatherings “without clear authorisation or oversight”, which was “not appropriate”
  • Some staff “felt unable” to raise concerns about the behaviour they witnessed and there should be “easier ways” for them to do so
  • “Fragmented and complicated” leadership structures in No. 10 have sometimes led to “the blurring of lines of accountability” and this needs to be addressed
  • The Gray report also provides a conclusion, in which she claims a number of the events she investigated “should not have been allowed to take place or develop in the way that they did” and that the government does not need to wait for the conclusion of the police investigation to address the issues she raises.

What questions are still unanswered?

The update sets out that it does not draw detailed conclusions, given the ongoing police investigation. Therefore, it does not answer many of the questions that we set out as needing to be answered:

What was the nature of the gatherings?

The update simply lists gatherings, it does not describe or define them. We do not know which were parties, work events or other types of gatherings.

Did the gatherings break the law?

This question is now for the Metropolitan Police to answer. They are investigating 12 of the 16 gatherings documented in Sue Gray’s report. Of course, the fact that they are investigating them does not mean that any of the gatherings broke the law. We will not know until the police publish their own findings.

Did the gatherings break Covid guidance?

Again, Sue Gray’s report makes no assessment of this, given the ongoing police investigations. She does say, however, that

“At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of Government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time.”

This implies that some of the gatherings did contravene the guidance, but without the detailed evidence that Gray gathered or her detailed conclusions, it is impossible to assess which.

Who was responsible for the gatherings?

This is still unclear, as the information on the gatherings in the Gray update is only general. Gray did discuss the culture in No10 and the Cabinet Office, and criticised “the excessive consumption of alcohol”. But she has not been able to set out what made which decisions on when and where to hold the various gatherings under investigation.

What did the prime minister know?

Again, we do not know at this stage – the evidence that Sue Gray and her team collected, including WhatsApp and text messages, emails and photographs, has not been made public. There is therefore no way of knowing what Boris Johnson knew at any stage.

This may be one of the areas that the Metropolitan Police investigate.

What happens now?

After the Gray update was published, the prime minister made a statement to the House of Commons, setting out its findings and calling on MPs to wait for the police investigation to be completed.[2] That may take some time – the Metropolitan Police issued a statement saying they are assessing over 500 pages of information and more than 300 photos. [3]

Gray’s update makes clear that her team will keep the information gathered “until such time as it may be required further.” MPs called on the prime minister to guarantee the publication of the full report from Gray and her team, after the police investigation is complete, although he did not commit to doing so in the Commons. No10 later confirmed that the report would be published in full.

Following his statement to the Commons Boris Johnson addressed Conservative MPs. With a number of backbenchers, including former prime minister Theresa May and former chief whip Andrew Mitchell, expressing their anger and concern with the ongoing situation, there remains the possibility of a vote of no confidence and a Conservative leadership challenge.

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  1. Prime Minister’s Office, Investigation into alleged gatherings on government premises during Covid restrictions: Update, 31 January 2022; https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/investigation-into-alleged-gatherings-on-government-premises-during-covid-restriction…
  2. Prime Minister’s Office, PM statement on the Sue Gray report: 31 January 2022,  https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-statement-on-the-sue-gray-report-31-january-2022
  3. See for example https://twitter.com/ShehabKhan/status/1488195042435125248?s=20&t=rfiVk5O9nF7ykx84ZcZPMA
Update date: 
Monday, January 31, 2022

Original source – The Institute for Government

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