Following allegations of several social gatherings at 10 Downing Street over numerous lockdowns, Sue Gray is the civil servant who has been named as the one conducting an inquiry into the incidents.
While news of Omicron symptoms has been dominating the headlines in recent weeks, there’s another story that’s getting people talking. First reported by outlets last year, it’s alleged that Boris Johnson attended – or at least had knowledge of – gatherings taking place at 10 Downing Street during all three of the UK’s lockdowns. Overall, ministers have been accused of breaking restrictions on 13 different occasions – while warning the public that breaching the rules could result in the country going back into lockdown.
So who is Sue Gray? When is her report into the lockdown parties at Downing Street going to be released? And what will happen after it is?
Who is Sue Gray?
Sue Gray is a senior civil servant, tasked with investigating the alleged parties at Downing Street during the first, second and third lockdowns. From May 2021, she’s had the title of Second Permanent Secretary with the responsibility for the Union and Constitution Directorate. This means that she’s responsible for various public inquiries – including the Grenfell Tower and Infected Blood Independent Public Inquiry.
Before she took up this position, from 2018 to 2021, she was Permanent Secretary of the Department of Finance, NI Executive on secondment from the Cabinet Office.
Having joined the Cabinet Office in the late 1990s, Sue Gray was once described by the BBC as the “most powerful person you’ve never heard of” due to her role as Director-General, Propriety and Ethics Team. This job, which Ms Gray held from 2012 to 2018, required her to examine alleged rule-breaking by officials.
She was involved in the inquiry into “plebgate” and the events leading up to Andrew Mitchell’s resignation. Along with the resignation of Liam Fox, the former defence secretary who breached ministerial code in 2011.
While she’s now looking at parties during the pandemic, Sue Gray was previously known to sign off memoirs by elected politicians, looking out for anything that could be harmful to the government. She’s also been known to intervene around pay and working conditions. As well as dictate what documents can and can’t be published, according to one BBC report.
Apart from an interlude where she managed a pub in Newry, Northern Ireland with her husband, Sue Gray has been working in the civil service since the 1970s.
When will Sue Gray’s report be published?
The publication date for Sue Gray’s report into the 10 Downing Street parties has not been announced. There’s not been a set timescale for the investigation but many are expecting the findings in the coming weeks.
Other internal inquiries have taken between two to six months to complete. This includes the inquiry into allegations of bullying by Home Secretary Priti Patel. However the official briefing document, published in December, said that it needs to be done “swiftly”.
The publication of the report will come following the government’s announcement to enforce Plan A restrictions in England. This includes an announcement on when the work from home rule will end and guidance on when people can stop wearing face masks in public spaces. It also comes as changes to the Highway Code are being made in 2022, with vital information updated for drivers.
Is Sue Gray Conservative?
Sue Gray’s personal political affiliations are not publicly known. As a civil servant, she must be politically impartial and she must not “act in a way that is determined by party political considerations, or use official resources for party political purposes.”
The Civil Service Code also requires civil servants to not “allow your personal political views to determine any advice you give or your actions.”
Sue Gray’s position in the investigation as been criticised, however, as she’s essentially looking into the actions of her superiors. Ms Gray reports directly into the cabinet secretary who in turn reports into the prime minister.
What will the report look at?
The report will look at the alleged social gatherings inside Downing Street on November 27 and December 18 2020. As well the one in the Department of Education on December 10.
It will also look into gatherings held in May, November and December 2020 along with the party on April 16 2021, which the No 10 apologised to the Queen for as it was the day before Prince Philip’s funeral.
“The primary purpose will be to establish swiftly a general understanding of the nature of these gatherings, including attendance, the setting and the purpose, with reference to adherence to the guidance in place at the time,” the document detailing the inquiry says. Essentially, this means that Sue Gray’s report will look at whether who, if anyone, broke the lockdown rules.
“Where there are credible allegations relating to other gatherings, these may be investigated,” it says. “If required, the investigations will establish whether individual disciplinary action is warranted.”
It was announced in December that Ms Gray would lead the inquiry into the alleged parties over lockdown. Initially, the investigation was due to be led by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case. However, he excused himself following allegations that he’d had a Christmas party of his own during the same period.
Will Boris Johnson resign?
If the inquiry finds that Prime Minister Boris Johnson lied about breaching the rules, he may resign. By convention, ministers who lie in Commons usually resign. Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab has confirmed that a minister should resign if they lie to Parliament.
“If it’s lying, deliberate in the way you describe, if it’s not corrected immediately, it would normally, under the Ministerial Code and the governance around Parliament, be a resigning matter,” he said when questioned on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“What I’m absolutely saying is that the standards are there for a reason. People in public office are meant to hold the highest standards.”
However, if the PM chooses not to resign, his party and backbenchers can essentially force him out. Conservative MPs can offer letters of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the backbench 1922 committee. If 54 Tory MPs (15%) do this, it can trigger a leadership contest.