Boris Johnson was on Tuesday braced for the imminent publication of an inquiry into rule-breaking Downing Street parties, as he spent the day in talks with allies and Conservative MPs plotting a fight for political survival.
Dame Cressida Dick, Metropolitan Police commissioner, announced a criminal probe into the gatherings on Tuesday, which initially threw into doubt the publication date of a long-awaited inquiry by Sue Gray, a senior Whitehall civil servant.
But the Financial Times understands Gray’s investigation could be published as soon as Wednesday, according to several officials. “Sue is determined it comes out soon,” one said. One ally of Johnson said the prime minister expected to receive it on Tuesday evening.
Gray’s report will be scrutinised by Johnson’s critics, who are weighing whether to launch an effort to oust him. A total of 54 Tory MPs must submit letters to Sir Graham Brady, chair of the backbench 1922 committee, in order to trigger a vote of no confidence in the prime minister.
Johnson has told colleagues he will fight to save his job and is expected to use the publication of the Gray report to announce a major shake-up of his Downing Street operation. One Tory MP said: “It’s not so much what is in the Gray report, but how he responds to it.”
Gray’s investigation is expected to focus on the prime minister’s attendance at several No 10 events that allegedly broke coronavirus restrictions, as well as what officials described as a “drinking culture” in Downing Street and other Whitehall departments.
Those briefed on Gray’s inquiry said the report would take the form of her conclusions, running to many pages, but it will not include significant amount of evidence from her interviews, such as photos or messages.
One official said Gray will produce a precis and not a longer report that requires redactions — fearful that a longer report would create fears of a whitewash.
“Everything that we give to the prime minister will be published,” a government insider said. “He won’t get a full dossier of every single WhatsApp or witness statement.”
Johnson is expected to deliver a statement to the House of Commons following the report’s publication, including another apology into his handling of the situation. One well-placed MP said this could come as soon as Wednesday following prime minister’s questions.
Johnson’s allies continued their efforts to shore up his support after the Met’s announcement. Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the House of Commons and a close ally of the prime minister, described his leadership of the country as “brilliant”, adding: “He has got us through this incredibly difficult period.”
Dick on Tuesday told a meeting of the London Assembly that the Met would start its own inquiry. “I can confirm that the Met is now investigating a number of events at Downing Street and Whitehall in the last two years in relation to alleged breaches of Covid-19 regulations.”
Dal Babu, a former Metropolitan Police chief superintendent who at one time served protecting Downing Street, said there was no reason to hold off publication of the Gray report. “It’s become unnecessarily complicated,” It doesn’t need to be because you have all the evidence there,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sky News reported Gray received photographic evidence of Downing Street parties, including one of the prime minister and “others close together with wine bottles”.