The six scenarios facing Boris Johnson in wake of Sue Gray's partygate report

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Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street to attend Prime Minister's Questions
Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street to attend Prime Minister's Questions

With the publication of Sue Gray's 37-page report into partygate, complete with nine pictures of Boris Johnson taken at two events in Number 10, the Prime Minister, his aides and Tory MPs will spend the day dealing with the fallout from the direct criticisms of Mr Johnson it contains, and wargaming the possible outcomes.

They range from a swift resignation by the Prime Minister, to him staying on and fighting the next general election.

Even if Mr Johnson fights on, there are several moments of danger coming up over the coming days, weeks and months that could yet take his future out of his own hands.

Here we examine the six possible scenarios that could play out before 2024.

1. Boris Johnson resigns over the Sue Gray report

The most extreme scenario, and probably the least likely, is that Boris Johnson bows to demands from Labour - and some of his own backbenchers - to resign as a result of criticism of him contained within Sue Gray’s report.

Ms Gray concludes that: “The public have a right to expect the very highest standards of behaviour in such places and clearly what happened fell well short of this.”

She also says that “the senior leadership at the centre…must bear responsibility” for what happened.

Given that the Prime Minister refused to resign over the fine he was issued by police, which made him the first incumbent PM to be punished for breaking the law, it is highly unlikely that Mr Johnson feels that anything in the Gray report merits his immediate resignation.

However, the public’s reaction could yet change that, particularly if his party believes his electoral chances have been fatally damaged, or if there are mass resignations from his Cabinet and among Downing Street staff.

2. Tory MPs force a confidence vote in the Prime Minister

The Prime Minister will spend the coming days nervously awaiting any form of contact from Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, who is the custodian of the all-important letters of no confidence that have already been submitted by some Conservative MPs.

No one knows how many letters Sir Graham already has in his desk drawer, but if he receives 54 of them a confidence vote in the PM would automatically be triggered. If a majority of Tory MPs indicated they had lost confidence in Mr Johnson, he would be finished.

Even a sizeable minority might be enough for men in suits to pay a visit to Number 10 and tell him it was time to go. And even if Mr Johnson survives the week, he will not be able to breathe easy, as the reaction Tory MPs get from their constituents when they go home on Friday could be the deciding factor for many in whether or not they put a letter in.

3. MPs decide Boris Johnson lied to Parliament

Even if Mr Johnson survives the Sue Gray report largely unscathed, the moment of maximum danger could still lie ahead.

Quite apart from the question of rule-breaking, the Prime Minister also faces accusations that he lied to Parliament when he told the Commons that Covid rules were followed in Downing Street at all times.

In her report, Sue Gray states that: “What took place at many of these gatherings and the way in which they developed was not in line with Covid guidance at the time. Even allowing for the extraordinary pressures officials and advisers were under, the factual findings of this report illustrate some attitudes and behaviours inconsistent with that guidance.”

One of the most specific allegations is that Mr Johnson lied about a leaving drinks event for his former director of communications Lee Cain held on Nov 13, 2020. Mr Johnson told Parliament that “the guidance was followed” when he was asked about the event, but pictures emerged this week of him raising a glass to Mr Cain next to a table covered in wine bottles.

The Prime Minister raises a glass at a leaving party for Lee Cain on November 13, 2020
The Prime Minister raises a glass at a leaving party for Lee Cain on November 13, 2020

The Gray report concludes that the Prime Minister drank alcohol at the event.

Mr Johnson’s responses in Parliament are being scrutinised by the Commons privileges committee, which must decide whether he knowingly misled Parliament.

If the answer is yes, he would be in breach of the ministerial code and would in theory be expected to resign. The key plank of Mr Johnson’s defence is that he was not fined by the Metropolitan Police over the event, and was not even sent a questionnaire about it, which, his supporters say, vindicates his response.

4. MPs clear Mr Johnson of lying to Parliament

If the Commons privileges committee decides the Prime Minister did not knowingly mislead MPs, and if the Gray report does not lead to a confidence vote in Mr Johnson, he will have survived the immediate danger and would be odds-on to carry on as Conservative Party leader until the next general election.

Like any Prime Minister, his future could still be determined by other events, in particular the cost of living crisis. If opinion polls continue to deteriorate for the Prime Minister - who has come second to Sir Keir Starmer for six successive months in polling of who would make the best PM - Tory MPs could still decide a change of leader is their only chance of retaining their majority in 2024.

5. Scotland Yard reopens its partygate investigation

The fact that the Metropolitan Police decided not to fine the Prime Minister over Lee Cain’s leaving drinks has caused bafflement among some serving and retired officers, and there have been calls for Scotland Yard to look at the matter again.

At least one other person who attended the event was issued with a fine, and Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has written to acting commissioner Sir Stephen House demanding to know why Mr Johnson was cleared of wrongdoing.

If the Yard receives fresh evidence that was not available to them before, it will come under pressure to reopen the investigation. There are reports that No10 aides have been emailing Sue Gray this week, and evidence has emerged of another leaving drinks event that was not investigated by Ms Gray or the police.

6. The Covid inquiry proves fatal to the Prime Minister’s career

Amid the wall of noise generated by Partygate, it is easy to forget that the Government’s handling of the Covid pandemic still faces the ultimate scrutiny in the form of an independent public inquiry chaired by retired judge Baroness Hallett.

No date has yet been set for the start of the hearing, but it is expected to begin well before the next general election and could make for uncomfortable headlines for the Prime Minister.

Any bombshells about the Covid response - or about Partygate - could put the Prime Minister’s position in danger.

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