Boris Johnson faced mounting pressure to publish Sue Gray’s report into the Partygate allegations in full last night, after the Metropolitan Police cleared the way for its release.
Ms Gray is understood to have found evidence that eight government gatherings may have broken lockdown rules – and possibly the law – with Whitehall braced for the release of her findings as early as today.
She reportedly expects the British prime minister to publish her findings in the full form in which they are handed to him and within hours of receipt.
Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, yesterday revealed her officers were investigating “a number” of events “without fear or favour” after concluding there appeared to be no reasonable defence.
Mr Johnson was last night scrambling to win over wavering MPs with a series of one-on-one meetings as some threatened to submit letters of no confidence once Ms Gray’s report is published.
When the police investigation was announced yesterday morning, Downing Street initially argued Ms Gray could not release the parts of her findings relating to events being investigated by the Met.
That raised the possibility it could be weeks before the full details emerged, leaving those Tory MPs who said they would wait for the results before deciding whether to oust Mr Johnson in a state of stalemate.
But Met Police sources made clear yesterday afternoon that they had no fundamental objection to the report’s release, undermining the argument that the findings must be held back.
By last night, Mr Johnson’s Government was preparing for the release of the Gray report as early as today.
“Any day this week is still a possibility,” a government source said.
The PM’s official spokesman insisted the report should be published as “swiftly” as possible, rebutting suggestions No 10 was dragging its heels.
The police investigation marks one of the most serious developments in the Partygate scandal, with the possibility of fines for Covid law breaches now hanging over Downing Street. It makes Mr Johnson the first prime minister in 15 years to be investigated by the police, after Tony Blair faced a “cash-for-honours” investigation that reached a conclusion in 2007 without charges.
No modern prime minister has been criminally sanctioned while in office.
Tory MPs said last night that if Mr Johnson was fined over Covid breaches his position would be untenable.
While the investigation’s terms of reference commit to publishing Ms Gray’s “findings”, little else is known on the length, format or substance of her conclusions, or what will be made public.
ITV News reported that Ms Gray is expecting the report to be published “in full, with no cuts, no censorship, no redactions”, citing a source close to the senior civil servant. The report is not expected to include a “blow-by-blow” of each alleged party or name junior staff, but senior civil servants and political appointees could be identified.
It also remains unclear whether witness statements, photographs, WhatsApp messages or other potential hard evidence will be released. Sky News reported last night that photographs of the alleged events, including of Mr Johnson, had been handed to Ms Gray.
The Labour Party has been demanding that all relevant material be released and could use parliamentary mechanisms to try to force anything that is redacted to be put in the public domain.
Last night, the Johnson fightback, nicknamed ‘Operation Save Boris’, was in full swing as he saw more than a dozen Tory MPs one-on-one for meetings aimed at winning their backing.
A string of supportive Tory MPs claimed ousting Mr Johnson would strengthen the hand of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, as they sought advantage from the Ukrainian stand-off.
Meanwhile, high-profile sackings from Mr Johnson’s inner circle of officials and aides, and a vow to overhaul the “culture” in Downing Street, are expected after the report is published.
The prime minister has said he will update parliament on Ms Gray’s findings, allowing him to lay out plans for change at the same time as the facts of the report are being digested.
Policy announcements to woo backbenchers, including the stripping away of EU-era regulations to mark two years of Brexit, are being lined up.
There remains Tory MP pressure, including from figures inside the cabinet, for the National Insurance rise planned for April to be delayed or scrapped in its entirety. Downing Street yesterday would say only that there were “no plans” to abandon the increase – a watering down of a previous insistence that the rise was definitely going ahead.
Scores of Tory MPs have for weeks been claiming that they will wait for Ms Gray’s report before deciding whether to submit a letter of no-confidence in Mr Johnson’s leadership to the 1922 Committee of backbenchers.
There is now an expectation among some MPs that the 54-letter mark, when an automatic confidence vote in the prime minister would be triggered, will be hit after the report is published.
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