Publication of the U.K. government’s investigation into pandemic parties in Boris Johnson’s office has slipped to next week as officials debate what details will need to be redacted after police opened their own inquiry.
Senior civil servant Sue Gray, who was commissioned by Johnson to look at allegations he and his staff broke lockdown rules with various gatherings in Downing Street, had been widely expected to hand over her report this week.
But the London Metropolitan Police decision to begin its own inquiry into the alleged parties has complicated matters, and led to discussions between officials over what can now be published and what should be withheld in the government’s own report.
Gray’s findings are likely to be released on Monday, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The next stage of the long-running “partygate” saga is likely to hinge on Gray’s report. Johnson is expected to make a statement to Parliament soon after it is released, while many lawmakers in his ruling Conservative Party have said they will wait for it before determining if they will mount a leadership challenge.
Peril Mounts for Johnson as Police Probe Lockdown Parties
The police probe is also expected to influence what Johnson says in his statement to Parliament.
The prime minister is due on a trip outside London on Thursday, and while that could in theory be canceled or shortened if the report from Gray is handed over, the timing suggests Downing Street is not expecting that to happen.
The delay has had one positive effect for Johnson: stifling the momentum of rebel Tory MPs determined to build enough support for a no-confidence vote in his leadership. It would take 54 of them, or 15% of the total, to do so.
Johnson Under Threat: How U.K. Tories Get Rid of Their Leaders
With so many Tories saying they want to see Gray’s report, the rebels have been forced into a waiting game. In the meantime, Johnson has been meeting Tory lawmakers to try to shore up support.
One MP said efforts to bolster backing for Johnson are also taking place on various WhatsApp groups representing the different wings of the party. They are focused on finding out what MPs are looking for and what they want to change.
Several MPs expressing loyalty to Johnson described the allegations about lockdown parties as overblown and accused the opposition Labour Party of working with the media to try to depose the prime minister. Others have privately called on Johnson to overhaul his top team.
One cabinet minister, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they expect Johnson to get through the crisis, noting that former Prime Minister Tony Blair was interviewed by police while in office, and didn’t have to resign over it.
Johnson would likely get a major boost if the police inquiry means the most damaging allegations are excluded from Gray’s report. It would effectively meaning the core allegation -- that rules set by Johnson’s government were broken by his office -- will not be formally answered until the police do so.
Still, the danger is far from over. Support for Johnson and his Tories has already plummeted in the polls, further damaging the prime minister’s standing after a tumultuous end to 2021 marred by missteps and a key parliamentary election loss.
The saga has been humiliating for Johnson and his party. An apology to Queen Elizabeth II, along with ridicule on popular TV shows and social media wasn’t part of the plan ahead of local elections in May. Angry MPs may yet decide to call time on his premiership.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.
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