‘Partygate’ poll could shape the future of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Ms Gray is a senior but formerly obscure public servant who may be holding Mr Johnson’s political future in her hands.

She is tasked with investigating allegations attended by the prime minister and his staff anti-shutdown parties on state property.
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, has apologized to Parliament for taking part in attending lockdown-mocking parties on government property. (House of Commons / PA Wire)

Ms Gray is due to report before the end of the month allegations that government staff held evening soirees, “bring your own booze” parties and “wine time Fridays” while the UK was under coronavirus restrictions in 2020 and 2021.

The accusations have spawned public anger, disbelief and ridicule and prompted some in the ruling Conservative party to call for Mr Johnson’s resignation.

The Prime Minister last week made a remorseful, carefully worded apology in Parliament, but stopped admitting breaches of rules and urged everyone to wait for Mrs Gray’s verdict.

Huge political and public issues

But Alex Thomas, a program director at the think tank Institute for Government, said those who expect the report to “either purge the prime minister or curse him” would likely be disappointed.

“This is a big political and broader public issue,” he said.

The Gray report is an important part of finding out what happened.

“But in the end, this is a judgment for conservative cabinet ministers and MPs on whether they want Boris Johnson to lead their party and therefore lead the country.”

Ms Gray is investigating close to a dozen alleged gatherings held between May 2020 and April 2021, most in the Prime Minister’s office in Downing Street with residence.

A party took place when people in Britain were banned from socializing or visiting sick relatives in hospitals.

Another came on the eve of Prince Philips’ socially distant funeral, in which the widowed Queen Elizabeth II was forced to sit alone in the church.

Johnson has admitted to attending an event, a garden party in May 2020, but says he considered it a work event.

But his former top aide, Dominic Cummings, who is now a fierce critic of Mr Johnson, said today that the prime minister had been warned that the party had broken the rules, and lied to parliament by denying it.

The British public servant Sue Gray may be holding the future of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in her hands when she submits her report. (AP)

Mrs Gray has access to “all relevant records” and the power to interview officials, including Mr Johnson, in her attempt to uncover the facts.

The Prime Minister’s Office will not confirm whether Mr Johnson has been questioned by Mrs Gray, although Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi said Mr Johnson had “submitted” to the investigation.

Ms Gray can determine “whether individual disciplinary action is justified” against officials, and London Metropolitan Police Force says it could open an investigation if it finds evidence of crime.

However, it is crucial that Mr Gray has limited space to criticize Mr Johnson.

Usually, public service inquiries provide recommendations to the Prime Minister.

Here it is the Prime Minister who is being investigated, making Mr Johnson the judge of his own punishment.

‘Straight shooter’ leading query

The inquiry is an unusually high-profile task for a woman accustomed to exercising power behind the scenes.

Mrs Gray has served both Labor and Conservative governments for decades, according to a brief biography on the government’s website, with a loophole in the 1980s when she ran a pub in Northern Ireland.

A party attended by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was held on the eve of Prince Philips’ socially distant funeral, in which Widow Queen Elizabeth II was forced to sit alone in church. (AP)

As head of “decency and ethics” in the Cabinet Office, she investigated previous allegations of misconduct by ministers, including allegations of sexual misconduct against then-Deputy Prime Minister Damian Green in 2017, who were forced to resign as a result.

Mrs Gray is seen in government as a straightforward shooter who is not afraid to stand up to politicians.

But advocates for freedom of information have criticized her role in keeping government secrets.

A previous role involved investigating officials’ memoirs to ensure no secrets were leaked and she has been accused of silencing requests for freedom of information.

Thomas, who knows Mrs. Gray, said she would not enjoy the limelight.

“One generally does not go into the civil service to become a household name,” he said.

“That said, she’s a robust person.”

Johnson’s office says the prime minister “will accept what facts she establishes”, but will not say what actions he can take after Gray’s report.

He has previously ignored a similar official investigation: In 2020, Mr Johnson backed Home Secretary Priti Patel after an investigation concluded she had bullied her staff.

Allegations of “Diversion Tactics”

British media reported today that the Prime Minister is planning to fire senior officials and aides to save his own skin if Mrs Gray’s report is critical – a plan called “Operation Save Big Dog.”

Johnson’s spokesman Max Blain dismissed the reports, saying he “had never heard the term used.”

He also denied that the government was deploying “Operation Red Meat” – and threw out attention-grabbing policy measures to distract from the party’s claims.

Support for Britain’s opposition Labor party and its leader Keir Starmer has risen in recent weeks. (AP)

The government has undeniably made a flurry of recent announcements that are likely to appeal to Conservative MPs, who may be wavering in their support for Mr Johnson.

They include a plan to cut taxpayers’ support for the BBC; a promise to deploy the military to stop migrants crossing the English Channel from France in small boats; and an intention to lift the remaining coronavirus restrictions next week.

“Partygate” has helped the opposition party Labor open up a double-digit poll for the Conservatives. Johnson does not have to face the verdict of voters before the next parliamentary election, scheduled for 2024. But the Conservative Party has a history of ousting leaders when they become passive.

Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, was forced out in 2019 after failing to secure acceptable Brexit divorce terms with the EU.

Johnson suffers the same fate if the party decides that his popular appeal – the star quality that has seen him return from previous scandals – has disappeared.

Under conservative rules, a no-confidence motion against the leader can be triggered if 54 party MPs write letters demanding it.

It is unclear how many have already been submitted, and so far only a handful of Conservative MPs have openly urged Mr Johnson to resign.

Many others are waiting to see what Mrs. Gray says and how the public responds.

“There is a real sense of anger and disappointment in the party,” Conservative MP Andrew Bowie told the BBC.

“And I think a lot of MPs are therefore struggling with the decisions that they may have to make over the next few weeks.”

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